Full House - Janet Evanovich

Chapter One

Nicholas Kaharchek surveyed his seven new polo students moving across the sandy practice field. He grinned as he watched an especially entertaining female named Billie Pearce.

In the four years since Nick had started the polo school, he'd seen his share of companionable stable bunnies and eager polo groupies, but he'd never seen anything like Billie Pearce. She was neither a stable bunny, nor a polo groupie, nor a rider, by any stretch of the imagination. From what he could determine during their brief conversation following the classroom part of the program, she was a housewife, smelling like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and looking good enough to eat in her brand-new black riding boots and cream-colored pants. A woman like that could make a man forget all his troubles. Well, almost.

She had "girl-next-door" written all over her, what with those large hazel eyes and a mouth that was a smidgen too wide for her face. She wasn't wearing a ring; he'd noticed that much right away. But she had an aura of well-rounded maturity and general satisfaction that he associated with a happy homemaker and motherhood. Not that he considered himself an expert on women, although, by God, he did his best.

Nicholas Kaharchek knew horses. It was said he'd inherited his horse sense from his Cossack ancestry. It was also rumored that the Cossack blood ran hot beneath the calm exterior of his personality—a rumor many of the local ladies testified to be true. Nick had actually learned a lot about women while handling horses. He knew precisely what tone of voice to use on a high-spirited filly and how to lull even the most temperamental of them into a sense of well-being when startled. He knew how to move his hands just right over horseflesh—slowly, deliberately, but feather-light, until the muscles quivered like those of a satisfied woman.

Yeah, he knew how to play females, and the fact he had money—lots of it—didn't hurt. He genuinely liked women, enjoyed their individual uniqueness. He liked the way a woman smelled, enjoyed the feel of her downy hair when he pressed a kiss on the back of her neck, the way she looked sitting across a candlelit table or lying naked on the thick rug in front of his fireplace. And women liked him. They liked being seen on his arm, the fact he was generous to a fault, and they liked the way he treated them. At least most of them.

But Nick had a habit of moving on after only a few dates. Less complicated that way, and he was a man who did not like complications. He'd learned the hard way.

He caught sight of Billie Pearce and suspected he was wasting his time, at least as far as polo was concerned. She had about as much business on a polo field as he did at a Tupperware party. He had a feeling teaching Billie Pearce to play polo would be like spitting into the wind.

Her horse ambled up to the red, white, and blue beach ball that served as the beginners' game ball and stopped. His ears drooped slightly, his eyes half closed, and he gave a huge horse sigh. The animal obviously had other places he'd rather be.

"Listen up, horse," Billie said, "I'm paying forty dollars for a morning of polo. Forty bucks, you got that? That would pay for a pedicure. The least you could do is pretend to enjoy this."

The horse snorted.

"My sentiments exactly," she muttered.

Billie aimed carefully at her beach ball, swung the mallet in a loop over her head, and completely missed her target. The mallet slipped from her grasp and hurtled halfway across the field. "Dammit."

Nick took in the sight with a mixture of disbelief and curiosity. The woman had absolutely no idea what she was doing, and she seemed to be lecturing a horse about polo, though sadly enough the horse probably knew more about the sport than she did.

Still, she was cute in an old-fashioned way. She made him think of nice things: the way grass smells after it has just been cut, the feel of crisp sheets against his body, window curtains billowing in a soft breeze, and the smell of something tasty baking in the oven. He retrieved her mallet and guided his horse to her side.

"Mrs. Pearce," he began in a patient voice, "there's a little leather strap attached to the mallet. If you slip your hand through that strap, it will prevent you from slinging it across the field