This blog the spotlight is on my new adult romance NO REINS (extended edition).
Anyone who is close to me knows I will do just about anything to juggle my schedule around to spend time at the horse track. I have been a harness racing fan since the age eight and I love horses. When you are doing something you care about, it doesn't feel like work.
Below I posted a link to where you can experience what is like to be a standard bred horse driver.
For days afterward, Angel brooded about Stephen and Sophie’s relationship. She was unhappy and frustrated by the intensity of the truth. She wanted him, and he didn’t want her. Those were the facts. Finished caring for and jogging Pierre’s horses, as well as tending to the stable, Angel gave her brother’s stable a quick glance as she walked through the grass.
“Come over here,” Stephen shouted at her.
She nodded and then made her way to the barn. Upon entering the stable, she saw Tim sitting on his tack box reading the race program. She looked at Benny and Toner snapped to the cross ties ready to go with the harness on.
Stephen strolled down the shed row. “You need to drive Benny before the big race. Grab a helmet, and we’ll go a mile.” He was more enthusiastic at the prospect than Marcus leaning against the wall and looking at her with a scowl on his face.
“I guess,” she answered quickly.
Okay then. Let’s go,” Stephen said.
His eyes met Angel’s, and his smile lingered.
She had that loving feeling for him again as she slung on the safety helmet. Tim unhooked Benny from the cross ties. He grabbed her horse’s race bridle and led his sister’s horse out of the barn. With the lines in her hands, she jumped onto the seat of the jog bike. Tim reached for the over check and pulled Benny’s head in place, snapping the clip to the metal ring of the harness. “Stay safe,” he said, walking beside her seated on the jog bike.
“I’m more excited than nervous.” She smiled.
Angel followed Stephen driving Toner up the dirt road and onto the race track. In the early afternoon, when everyone else had finished jogging their horses, Stephen and Angel steered their horses side-by-side a couple of laps around the track and then turned their horses to race. Coming around and lining up the horses, Angel was truly happy to spend time with Stephen.
“We will go when we hit that red and white pole,” he he said, keeping his eyes on her.
Angel faced him. Her eyes filled with pleasure. “Okay,” she said.
“I’m going to go a pretty fast mile. Don’t be afraid to push Benny a bit on the way home,” he called out.
“We’ll see what happens,” she answered, shifting her body into a more comfortable position.
Angel nodded. “Yep!”
He shouted at her, “Here we go!”
Angel tucked her horse in behind Stephen. With no whips, the horses paced naturally. Coming around the first turn single file, the two horses paced a little faster. On the second lap, she came closer and closer to Stephen. Stephen, aware of her presence behind him, picked up the pace. Even though the wind roared by her ears, she could hear the sound of the horses’ hooves pounding on the hard surface and her horse breathing hard. At the head of the stretch, Angel pulled Benny to try to pass Toner. Louder and louder hooves hammered the stone dust. Toner never gave up his lead. Just before the finish line, Benny made a sudden bad step and started galloping, losing his natural pacing rhythm. Angel, taken completely off guard, took control of the reins and attempted to slow down her horse. After she brought Benny to a halt, she slipped from the jog bike’s seat.
“It’s okay…it’s okay,” she said to her horse, reaching for the bridle. Benny flicked his long tail.
Tim hurried over to the injured horse. Angel turned to him, her expression stark with shock, and stammered, “Benny made a sudden misstep.”
“I know. I saw what happened.”His voice was shaking a little.
Stephen jogged his horse close to Angel holding Benny who was blowing hard in and out his nostrils. “Walk him to the barn, and we will see if his legs are good!” Stephen proceeded to leave the race track.
“Handle him easy. His front leg appears to be hurt,” Tim said over his shoulder, walking ahead of her.
Angel slowly walked the limping horse off the racetrack and back to the stable, thinking that it just can’t be true—lame. She stopped in front of the barn. Tim unhooked the jog bike from the sides of the horse’s harness. As Angel slowly walked the injured animal into the stable, she saw Marcus removing Toner’s hopples.
He looked steadily at her. “The horse is no good as a race horse now!” His voice was angry.
Angel’s face went deathly white. She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it. She hooked Benny to the cross ties and began to take the lines off the bridle, in agony with the knowledge that Stephen now had a lame horse.
Tim knelt slowly beside the injured animal. He ran his hand down the front leg. He gently squeezed Benny’s ankle. “Look at this,” he said, his eyes on Stephen.
Stephen walked over to the horse, knelt by Tim, and moved his hand smoothly down the horse’s leg. He put his hand on the animal’s ankle, sighed, and shook his head wearily. “It might be nothing,” he said, standing.
Tim stood. He shook his head in disbelief. “Could you be that lucky?” he asked with a sigh.
“I don’t believe the injury is very serious. I’ll give the veterinarian a ring.” Stephen ran his fingers through his hair. “He might have to stay in the stall for a few days.”
“Go ahead and give him a bath, Angel,” Tim said, facing her.
Angel clipped a long lead chain onto the leather halter and unhooked the horse from the cross ties. Heavy with guilt, she slowly led the limping horse down the shed row toward the wash stall. She filled a large pail with warm soapy water, staring gravely at the horse’s leg. She gave the sweaty animal a bath. She removed the horse from the cross ties, and then led him up the shed row. After snapping the horse to the cross ties in Stephen’s stable, she dried Benny off with a bath towel. The horse enjoyed the attention she paid him.
“Toss a dry, cooler blanket over him,” Tim said, sitting on his tack box. “Keep him warm so his muscles don’t get tight.”
Angel did as she was asked.
“Go ahead and put him in the stall. Give him a drink and then take the water bucket out,” Tim said, raising his glance to meet her tortured eyes.
Angel had an uneasy feeling within her as Benny limped his way into his stall. She closed the door behind him.
Stephen came up the shed row carrying a flake of hay. After he tossed in the snack to the horse, he stood beside Angel, his muscular arms folded, his suntanned legs braced apart. “Sorry. I need to pull Benny from the race,” he said gloomily.
Angel nodded her understanding.
Marcus scowled, made a sound of disgust, and looked away.
“It’s too bad,” Tim sympathized. “You need to scratch him from the Powder Puff before you even entered the horse to race.”
Angel shifted her feet at looked up at Stephen. The guilt within her drove the words out of her mouth. She said in a small voice, “I have to admit, I’m really wondering if it was my fault.”
Stephen stood motionless, his hands on his hips, staring at her. “I don’t blame you. The horse made a bad step. That’s it!”
An involuntary breath of relief escaped her. “I was afraid you’d be mad at me,” she murmured.
Stephen grinned. “When you are out on the track, anything can happen. Harness racing is no game for the faint of heart. You gotta take the good with the bad.”
Angel made an attempt to smile.
“I don’t want you to keep vigil, watching for the slightest improvement in Benny.” Stephen reached out a tentative hand. Angel shivered when his fingers touched her shoulder and his palm traveled down the bare skin on her arm. His touch was tender. “He’ll probably have to stay in the barn for a few days. I’m sure he will be fine, given some time to recuperate.” He removed his hand. Stephen eyes held Angel’s for a long moment. He smiled at her with real warmth. His voice lifted, “You can drive Toner?”
Angel eyes widened, but she said nothing. She nearly jumped out of her skin. Whether Stephen meant it or not, the offer surprised her.
“I think that’s a stupid idea,” Marcus disagreed, walking Toner outside to cool him down.
Tim shook his head in disbelief and exclaimed, “Don’t be crazy. She can’t drive your best horse in a Powder Puff race.”
Stephen looked over at him. “Indeed she can. She has enough experience. She was brave, blazing up the outside,” he said firmly.
“Angel wants to race, and I am fully supportive of her driving my horse.”
There was a loud moan from Marcus, weighing the odds against her as he walked Toner outside the barn, up and down on the grass. He was enraged.
“You don’t mean that,” Angel stammered, shifting her feet. “What if something goes wrong?”
“You can do it,” Stephen said matter-of-factly. “Although, these two don’t believe you can.”
Angel blushed, and Stephen grinned at her. After a long, measuring look, he questioned her, “Take my offer or leave it.”
For a moment, none of them spoke. Angel glanced at Marcus, who appeared resentful. She felt her brother looking at her, and she knew he was waiting for an answer. In the back of her mind, she wasn’t wholly sure of what to do. If something went wrong again, she would never forgive herself, but driving Toner would be a dream come true. She came to a sudden decision. “All right,” she said quietly.
Stephen’s eyebrows went up. “Good. It’s settled.” He sounded pleased.
Angel wiped the sweat from her forehead with her hand. It had been a hot day, and the dust clung to her sweaty skin. “I’m going to go and have a shower,” she said.
“No problem,” Stephen answered immediately. “Marcus can put the horses away and clean the harnesses.”
Marcus pushed his glasses back up his nose and gave her a sharp look.
“You’re sure?” Angel asked him.
“Yes! That’s what I pay him to do. You go and enjoy the rest of the day,” he insisted.
Angel stepped out of the barn, still trying to take in Stephen’s astonishing offer. As she walked away, she turned to see his eyes fixed on her. He looked intensely into her eyes. His slow, deepening smile was for her. Her heart expanded in her chest by the impact of the closeness between them. A flush mounted slowly to her cheeks. Even though her legs quivered, she found the strength to keep on walking to her tack room.
Standing just inside Pierre’s stable, Kerri was watching, her eyes moving back and forth between them.