In a dramatic encounter at the racecourse Fliss Merrick erupts into the calm, orderly life of racehorse trainer, Luke Caldecott. While he attempts to hold her at arm’s length, Fliss charms her way into his home and his heart. Now, if only he can work out how to persuade her to stay…
Previously sold until the title: Reckless Runaway at the Racecourse
What readers are saying
“This short little book is delightful. …It is a warm, frequently funny romance. Overall, a nice light read!” – Barb at Sugarbeats Books
“This book was a thoroughly enjoyable light read, perfect for traveling. Felt like I was reading Dick Francis, without the dead body.” – sylviagrace on Amazon
There was someone on the track.
Luke’s blood ran cold.
There was someone on the track.
A slip of a girl in a vivid cornflower blue dress and long chestnut brown hair flying around her shoulders was stuck right in the middle of the bright green turf with nine tons of thoroughbred horseflesh galloping straight at her.
Including the top horse in Luke’s stable. The Derby horse. The one that would finally set the seal on his already glittering career.
Devastating images flashed through Luke’s head in a brief, nightmarish instant – horses rearing, jockeys tumbling, hooves kicking, ambulances, vets, big white screens to hide the horror from public view…
She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t running to safety.
She was going to ruin everything he’d worked so hard for.
Luke wasn’t going to let her.
He shouldered his way through the heaving crowds, ducked under the white fence and sprinted out onto the grass. He didn’t bother to stop as he hoisted the girl over his shoulder and flung them both to safety on the far side of the track. Just a few feet behind them, nine horses with their tiny jockeys perched high on top thundered past at over thirty miles an hour.
Luke held on to the rail as if it were a lifebelt while he struggled to get air back into his lungs.
Stupid. So stupid.
He’d known it since he was a small child: never, ever cross the track while the race is on. Never.
He could have been killed.
Luke felt the blood throbbing in his veins as he stared down the course, each pulse a rhythmic reminder that he was still here. Still breathing. Still alive.
Gradually, he became aware of something beating against his back and a weight hanging over his shoulder. A woman. The one who’d nearly ruined everything. Luke had one arm around her thighs and the other down by her ankles, holding her firmly in place. Nicely turned ankles, he noticed with the tiny part of his brain that was still functioning normally. Soft thighs. Loud voice.
‘Let me go, you bastard!’
Loud voice yelling right in his ear.
‘Put me down right now or I’ll.. I’ll…’ She hit him again, hard enough to hurt.
The sheer elation of survival quickly subsided, giving way to deep anger as Luke began to comprehend the full extent of her folly. Did she even realise how many lives she’d put in danger? He let her slide down to the ground, automatically taking note of her hourglass waist. Her perfectly rounded bosom. Her tousled hair. Her wild face, red with rage. Or possibly red from hanging upside down for the last few minutes.
Luke shook his head dismissively. It didn’t matter that she looked like an angel. She’d acted like an idiot. Luke had a few things to say to this woman and he wasn’t letting her go until she’d heard them.
‘What the hell did you think you were doing?’
Luke blinked. Wasn’t that supposed to be his line? But the girl in front of him was stamping her foot and looking decidedly disgruntled at having been rescued. Oh God, she wasn’t a protestor, was she? Mind you, she didn’t look like a typical Animal Libber, not in that short clingy blue dress and those spiky black heels.
‘That was a Manolo Blahnik!’
She was still shouting at him and Luke still had no clue what she was talking about. ‘That was a what?’
‘My shoe!’ She held up her right foot to show him. The heel dangled by a thread. Typical woman, Luke thought, with vicious fury, only worried about her precious designer accessories. ‘It was caught in the grass and I was pulling it free when you came along with your Neanderthal manoeuvre.’
‘So it’s Neanderthal to want to save lives, is it?’ Luke gripped her arms even more tightly. Someone needed to shake some sense into this woman and he was quite happy for it to be him.
She rolled her eyes at him. ‘Don’t be silly. I had plenty of time to get out of the way.’
‘Funnily enough,’ he bit back, ‘it wasn’t your life I was worried about.’
‘Well, no one asked you to come running out onto the track.’
Luke gritted his teeth and spoke very slowly and clearly. ‘There were nine horses out there. Any one of which could have been spooked by the sight of you, or swerved dangerously to avoid you. At the speed they travel, those kind of incidents can easily be fatal to the horses. Not to mention the jockeys.’
‘The jockeys?’ Her voice was thin and she had begun to shake visibly.
Luke held her firm. ‘Imagine being trampled underfoot by nine horses running at thirty miles an hour.’
Her eyes widened at the realisation of what she had done began to sink in. As they gleamed in the pale spring sunshine, Luke saw that they were the most extraordinary green-gold colour.
‘I didn’t think…’ she began.
‘No,’ Luke interrupted savagely. ‘You didn’t think at all, did you? This is all just a playground to you, isn’t it?
A place to drink and flirt and have a good time and show off your expensive designer shoes. Not a place where people’s lives and livelihoods are at risk. It’s all very well being sorry,’ he went on, determined to drive the lesson in, her wide-eyed guilt notwithstanding, ‘but you should never have done it. It was thoroughly irresponsible and…’
Fliss listened with shivery detachment to the cut-glass upper-class accent, accepting the tirade her rescuer was throwing at her. Deep down she knew she deserved it. She had been irresponsible. Reckless. Impulsive. All the things her school reports had always accused her of and all the things her mother had tried to stamp out of her.
If she’d taken even a moment to think about it, the last thing she would have wanted was to endanger the horses or their jockeys. But when Jack had touched her, she hadn’t been thinking at all. Pure terrified instinct had made her dash forward and duck under the rail, born out of a desperate impulse to get as far away from her lecherous boss as she possibly could. Even now she didn’t know what else she could have done. Was she supposed to have stood there quietly and just let him assault her?
Oh God. As if the thought of him had conjured him up, Jack appeared out of the crowds. Fliss watched him crossing the track, not looking happy. It was obvious to her now just how drunk he was, with a half-empty plastic beer glass waving in one hand and a torn race card in the other as he stumbled across the turf.
Drunk or not, he was still bigger and stronger than Fliss. And he was still her boss. Though not for much longer, Fliss decided. Her temporary contract finished at the end of the month and she wouldn’t ask for an extension.
He had trapped her. In the middle of a crowd of thousands gathering to watch the next race, he’d pressed up behind her, his breath hot and acrid against her neck. Fliss jabbed her elbow in the direction of his stomach and tried to get away but there were too many people and she couldn’t force her way through the mass of bodies quickly enough. Jack caught one hand around her waist, dragging her back against him. Fliss opened her mouth just as he bellowed into her ear, loud enough for her to hear over the roars of the crowd.
‘No one will hear you scream, darling.’
For Fliss, the world had shuddered into slow motion. She could sense every one of Jack’s fingers separately crawling up the inside of her thigh as his words sank in and his intentions crystallised into perfect clarity. Calmly, deliberately, she stepped backwards, stabbing the sharp stiletto heel of her precious Manolo Blahnik into Jack’s foot.
And then she’d spotted a gap in the crowd and made her run for it.
Fliss hadn’t thought about the horses, hadn’t even noticed that the race had started. She hadn’t thought about anything until her heel caught in the grass and she’d been thrown ignominiously over someone’s shoulder.
Someone who was now taking great pleasure in tearing strips off her for her behaviour. It was never fun being told off with such caustic incision, but Fliss was used to it. She’d spent her whole life falling into trouble, and she’d never worked out how to extricate herself without impunity. Still, she’d rather take any amount of censure from a man who wouldn’t try to stick his hand up her skirt than deal with the alternative. Even if it did feel as though she’d jumped out of a frying-pan and into a funeral pyre.
Jack was only ten yards away now. Near enough for Fliss to see his reddened cheeks and the wild eyes of a man who had drunk himself out of control. A tiny part of her felt pity as she watched him come closer. Most of her was angry and afraid.
Her instinct was to run away again, to find somewhere to hide. She looked around her but there was nothing on this side of the track, no buildings, no crowds, no ladies loos with comforting locks on the insides of the doors.
She took a deep breath. There was only one thing left to do. One way to make sure she would be safe. Desperately, she turned to the man in front of her, ignoring the irate lecture he was continuing to give her, and urgently interrupted him.
‘You’re right. I was stupid and thoughtless and an idiot, and I’m really, really sorry.’ He didn’t look as though he was impressed with her apology, but Fliss pressed on. ‘But this is serious. I need you to rescue me.’
Briefly, she checked his left hand. Bare, with no telltale tan line round his fourth finger. Nothing that could make Jack suspicious.
He was tall and lean but Fliss had felt the ease with which he’d lifted her up over his shoulder. She’d been in close proximity to his broad, muscular back under his elegant dark grey suit. He’d already risked his life once to save hers. This wasn’t the sort of man to stand aside while Jack did whatever he wanted with her, she was sure of it.
He raised an arrogant eyebrow and curled his lips mockingly at her. ‘Didn’t I already do that?’
‘Not like this,’ Fliss told him and took her chance, crossing her fingers that he would respond as she hoped. She reached up on her tiptoes, slid her arms about the man’s waist and pressed her mouth to his.
She was completely crazy, Luke realised. Certifiable. And he was still angry with her. But she was a beautiful girl and a damn fine kisser, and he was a red-blooded man who had just survived the most reckless few minutes of his life: kissing her back was no more than a reflex reaction.
Her lips were soft against his, but not tentative. She kissed as though she meant it, demanding that he give as good as he was getting, meeting his every move and matching it with her own. There was no slow, deliberate exploration and exchange, only violent clashes of teeth and tongue and the raw emotions of relief, anger, and euphoria at having survived.
Luke’s hands slid savagely down her arms, then curled around her deliciously curved waist as he pulled her roughly towards him. If she wasn’t going to listen to his words, he’d make her listen to his body. Her eyes darkened and for an instant Luke’s breath was taken away by an image of this woman sprawling wantonly on his bed, her incredible golden eyes rendered dark with passion as he made love to her.
He killed the image as soon as it arrived. He didn’t need that kind of distraction. It was one thing to kiss a foolish, gorgeous woman in the heat of his rage and the relief of survival, but there was no way he was taking her home to his bed. Luke never took women home. It was easier to keep them at arm’s length that way.
One kiss hardly constituted a mistake. One kiss couldn’t do any harm.
Luke nipped at her bottom lip and heard the ensuing sharp intake of breath with satisfaction. He wanted her to know exactly how he felt about her. All his anger poured out into his kiss, untempered by any tenderness. But there was unexpected alchemy in the lips of this reckless, impetuous girl, who could take his rage and return it as red-hot passion.
She was utterly intoxicating. Luke groaned, recognising the danger but unable to stop himself from pulling her closer, and falling deeper into her temptation.
Fliss hadn’t bargained on this at all. Posh boy could kiss. Really kiss. What she had taken for haughty arrogance in his cool blue eyes now sparked with heat as he responded to her sudden kiss with blazing fire in his wide, mocking lips. She had planned to stay in control of the embrace, to make it convincing enough to fool Jack but no more than that. But the instant her lips met his, he took over and she willingly gave herself up to him.
Strong, shapely hands slid down her arms, leaving a hot trail of goose-bumps in their wake. Such clever hands, instinctively knowing the precise amount of pressure that would send Fliss’s nervous system skyrocketing. She sighed with sheer pleasure, closing her eyes and melting deeper into his embrace. If only all her impulsiveness led to consequences like this.
40,000 word category romance