Chapter 1 Training Temptation
The 1959 Dom Pérignon Rosé soured in Caroline’s mouth. “I’ve only missed one payment. I don’t see how the bank can start foreclosure proceedings.”
Anton reclined on the plush sofa and laced his hands behind his head. “Banks can begin the foreclosure process the second you miss a payment.”
She gazed into the flames slithering in the fireplace. “I’m going to catch up on my payment as soon as the race is over.”
His lips curled into a smirk. “I’m offering to buy you out.”
“You can’t put a price on this estate.” Her mother would shudder in her grave. Caroline imagined ancestral specters looming amongst the towering bookshelves in her library glaring with disapproval.
He oozed off the sofa, leaving a deep indentation in the cushions. He towered over her and the wine on his breath nearly gagged her. “Everyone has a price.”
She wouldn’t let him intimidate her. “I’ll never sell.”
His sudden grip on her arm startled her. Leaning close, he whispered, “Everyone has a price. The bank will be all too happy to hand the estate over to me. But maybe we can come to a certain agreement.”
The lecherous glint in his eye told Caroline the type of agreement he had in mind. She yanked her arm from his sweaty grasp then retreated to the far side of her enormous oak desk. When he didn’t follow, a trickle of relief slid down the back of her neck. “So you’re the one pressuring the bank?”
“Pressuring?” He laughed. “They just want to get paid. Money is money.”
“You won’t get this estate.”
“I always get what I want. It’s really only a matter of time.”
“Not this time!”
He pulled an envelope from his tuxedo pocket and dropped it onto the desk. “Let me know if you’re interested in my friendly offer.”
Before she had a chance to say anything, he sauntered out of the room. She crumbled the envelope into a ball then hurled it into the fireplace. The contents didn’t matter. She could never sell the legacy her mother left when she died.
The gilded walls of the study seemed to close in on her. No one could know about the threat. If even a hint of financial strain twisted in the rumor mill, people would stop bringing their ponygirls to her world-class training facility. She’d lose the last thing her mother gave her before she died, Sheridan Estate.
A log cracked and sparks exploded amongst the flames. Her ponygirl Tiffany Rose was her only hope. If she didn’t win the final race, she would lose everything.
Footsteps shushed on the carpet behind her. Caroline jumped as a deep male voice whispered into her ear. “Canapé?”
She spun to face Edward Hastings. The son of the man who’d just threatened her stood before her, grinning.
“What are you doing up here?” The last thing she needed was taunting by her arch-rival. Through the pony circuit they’d know each other for years, but his silly jabs still annoyed her.
“I came to escort you to the ball.” He leaned his hip against the sofa and hooked his thumb into the waistband of his slacks.
Ignoring the way the fabric hung from his hips, she grabbed the precariously balanced tray from his free hand and set it on the desk. The last thing she needed was to be distracted by his delectable body. An occasional fantasy was manageable, but she’d never act on her desire.
“I don’t need an escort.” Caroline’s gaze strayed to the contours of his broad shoulders. A thousand hooves galloped across her heart. The week’s festivities hadn’t officially stated and he’d already ruined her plan to ignore him. And even worse, she’d suddenly forgotten how to breathe.
The corners of his bottomless amber eyes crinkled, a slow smile formed on his sensuous mouth. “You remembered.”
His gaze caressed her body traveling from her eyes, to her lips, to the deep V of her neckline. “Burgundy is my favorite color on you.”
She willed her face to remain passive. “Oh? I had no idea.”
“Denying it makes things more fun, doesn’t it?” He grinned.
Clenching her fist, she fought the urge to slap him. He needed to learn that women were more than just playmates for spoiled rich brats. An assumption he’d clearly learned from his father.
“I have to see to my other guests.” She turned to walk away but his strong warm hand clasped her elbow.
“You know,” he leaned closer to her, “I’ve been looking forward to beating you in the race for, what is it now, the third year in a row? You could say I’ve been chomping at the bit.”
She rolled her eyes and yanked her arm out of his grasp. “When you see Tiffany Rose race, you’ll realize you have no chance.”
“She’s the fastest pony I’ve ever trained.”
“Care to make a little wager on the side?” His eyes seemed to hypnotize her. Maybe that’s how he lured so many women into bed.
“You know the rules, we can’t bet on the races.” She stole a quick glance at his chiseled forearms then averted her eyes.
“It doesn’t have to be money.” The sparkle in his eye implied he wanted something money couldn’t buy.
Caroline swallowed. “What exactly did you have in mind?” The second the words became airborne, she regretted them. Too late to pull them back. The race was too important to let anyone, especially him, cause such a disruption. It wouldn’t help the situation. The bottom line: If her ponies didn’t win, all remaining connection to her family would be lost.
“Well, I think…” His gaze drifted to the door where her maid stood.
“You may enter,” Caroline said.
She sauntered into the room. “Excuse me Lady Caroline, the first guests are arriving.”
“Please show them to the ballroom.”
“As you wish.”
The maid’s curvy hips gave an exaggerated sway as she left the room. Choosing the younger woman for the dressage competition would ensure a victory. The $100,000 First place prize would help, but she really needed to win the final race if she was going to pay off her debt and continue to preside over Sheridan Estate.
Nothing could be done about it now. Guests were arriving.
“I have to attend to a few matters before I go downstairs.” She waved her hand toward the door but he grasped it mid-air.
Brushing his lips across her knuckles, he whispered, “I look forward to a dance.”
A shiver of pleasure slid like sweat between her breasts. The look in his eyes left her speechless. She quickly turned away from him to hide her face.
The soft click of the door closing signaled his departure. She smoothed her palms against the satin on the bodice of her gown. She needed to collect herself and stop acting like a schoolgirl in heat.
Caroline took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She visualized a brook meandering through a valley then released a pent-up breath. Picturing herself in a serene place always helped to calm her. The tension headache threatening to ruin her night eased into a dull ache. She willed the muscles around her mouth to transform from a scowl into a smile. A mask of happiness fell into place. She’d spent years hiding her true emotions and today wasn’t any different.
As she strolled the length of the east wing, the edge of her gown lapped at her ankles. She half expected to find Edward waiting as she rounded the final curve of the hallway. No one stood near the winding staircase.
She dismissed the flutter in her chest as nerves, not disappointment. From the top of the stairs, she looked down at the crowd gathered in the foyer. She waited until her newly arrived guests tilted their faces to look up.
Edward watched from the crowd below as she raised her slender arms. Her stance reminded him of the fountain of Athena in Austria.
Caroline carried herself like a goddess as she addressed the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen.” Her voice cast a silken spell over the guest who fell silent. “Welcome to Sheridan Estate.”
The crowd responded with enthusiastic applause. She surveyed the room and smiled while slowly descending the staircase. He took a sip of his martini and watched as a group of women adorned in glittering dresses flocked to her. Maneuvering through the crowd, he got within earshot of her conversation. With his back to her, he turned slightly to catch her reflection in the French doors.
One of the men stepped forward to greet her. “Lady Caroline.”
“Senator Garvin, it’s so nice to have you here,” she said.
The senator grasped her hand and brushed his lips across it. “The pleasure is all yours, of course.”
“Of course.” Her silvery laughter echoed through the room as he released her hand.
Edward skewered an olive and jammed it into his mouth. She flirted with everyone but him. This year, no matter what it took, he would charm her into his bed.
“Edward Hastings.” The smooth southern drawl tickled his ears as he turned to face a sultry blonde in a tight black dress. She looked vaguely familiar but he couldn’t place her.
She tapped her long red nails against her whiskey glass. “You never called.”
Where did he last see her? Think. “Darling, I’ve been so busy. I just got in from Switzerland two nights ago.”
Sliding closer, she rested her hand on his shoulder. Her breast pressed against his arm and a subtle musky perfume enveloped him.
She whispered, “You might be able to convince me to meet you on the beach again. But bring a towel this time. You don’t want to scrape your back against the rocks again.”
He instantly remembered the moaning vixen. The scars from that night were still fading and it had been over a year. He smiled. “Slamming me against them left quite the impression.”
“I’m sure it did.”
Over her shoulder he caught a glimpse of Caroline. Would she be a moaner or silent? His eyes caught hers and they gazed at each other over their conversational partners.
“What time should I meet you?” The vixen leaned into him, her hand trailing across his chest.
Caroline frowned and turned her attention back to the senator. Terrible timing, as usual. He tore his eyes from the tight curve of her hip and discretely adjusted his tux to hide his arousal.
“Excuse me. I see the senator has arrived.” He flashed his most dazzling smile then brushed the woman aside.
She sputtered behind him, “Later then?”
“Mmm,” he mumbled as he walked toward his intended prize.
As he crossed the room, he stopped to grab two champagne flutes from a liveried waiter.
Shifting closer to the senator, Caroline gazed over his shoulder at the reflective glass in the French doors behind him. She spotted the reflection of the man staring at her and the smile faded from her face.
She had to get away, fast. “Excuse me senator, allow me introduce you to Prince Franco. He just arrived.”
“Trying to get rid of me so soon?” he joked.
She leaned in and whispered, “Franco just acquired Bareli Enterprises. The announcement will come Monday, but you might want to discuss the details of his intended merger with Denning Corp.”
The senator arched an eyebrow. “Merger? It seems that the prince and I do have something to discuss.”
Attempting to disguise her distress, Caroline played the proper hostess and steered him toward the prince. After introducing them, she turned to escape.
Blend in. She could blend into the party if she hid amongst the other guests in the ballroom. With over two hundred guests at the party, she could avoid him.
Caroline threw open the heavy mahogany doors to the ballroom and her eyes darted around the room. No sign of him. Excellent.
The rhythmic beat of drums and the soulful singing of the sultry woman draped across the piano filled the ballroom with electric energy. Laughter carried through every corner of the enormous room.
A sigh escaped her lips. She knew he would be here, so why was she nervous about seeing him? Caroline had spent the last five years ignoring him. Not an easy accomplishment. Their particular fetish du jour, sexy athletic women dressed like horses, ensured they’d see each other at almost every event. This week marked the 13th Annual International Ponygirl competition. Everyone who was anyone would be here.
The sound of shattering glass smashed through the ballroom snapping her into the present. Conversations sputtered then roared back to life as the piano singer continued her song. The carnal hunger of the crowed swirled around her. Everyone’s eyes seemed misted with anticipation for the race.
Overwhelmed by the energy in the room, she threaded her way through the crowed to the safety of the kitchen where broken wine glasses littered the floor. The chef barked orders as the kitchen staff scurried to clear the mess.
She leaned over to help pick up a shard from the floor. The glass bit into her hand. Dammit. Pain slashed across her fingers and blood dripped from the wound.
The chef grabbed a clean dishrag and wrapped it around her hand. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Let me call a doctor.”
“I’ll be fine,” she lied. She hadn’t been fine since Anton’s threat and she wouldn’t be fine again until she was sure she wouldn’t lose Sheridan Estate. Tears formed in her eyes but she blinked them away.
The staff stared at her. She followed their attention downward to where droplets of red stained her dress. She needed to change.
She turned to leave and Edward appeared out of nowhere. “There you are.”
Great. He’d cause an even bigger scene if she didn’t get rid of him quickly. She brushed past him. “Excuse me.”
The chef stepped between them. “Sir, you can’t be in here.”
“It’s okay, I’m a doctor.”
Aware the staff was listening, she lowered her voice. “You never finished med school.”
“It doesn’t take med school to slap on a bandage.”
She thrust her wrapped hand toward him. “Blood is dripping everywhere. Please get out of my way.”
“Wait, let me help you.”
She shoved past him and stomped down the hallway.
“I was pre-med at Stanford,” he said.
She paused. Maybe he could be of some use after all. Avoiding Edward for the rest of the week would be pointless. Why was she trying so hard to avoid him anyway? It wasn’t like he was a serial killer. Men like him were always around the stable with their latest flavor of the week, so why did she get so rattled when he was around?
She stood up straighter and pushed her shoulders back. She wouldn’t let him get to her. “All right doctor, I have a first aid kit in my bathroom but you better behave.”
“I finally get to play doctor with you.” He grinned.
Caroline put her injury-free hand on her hip. “This is exactly why I don’t think you should come up.”
He held his hands up as if he was surrendering. “I promise to be on my best behavior.”
“The only reason I’m letting you come up is because you’re the only doctor here, and I hate hospitals.”
He gestured toward her hand. “From the way it’s bleeding, it may not be minor, but I need to look at it to be sure.”
“Fine.” She could tolerate him for a few minutes.
He remained silent as they climbed the staircase to the third floor. Her room occupied the end of the east wing of the mansion.
“Sit here.” He pointed at her crushed blue velvet settee. Her hand throbbed as he unwrapped the kitchen towel. “The bleeding has slowed considerably but we need to wash it out to avoid infection.”
He grabbed a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls and a gauze wrap. His eyebrows furrowed and his lips pressed together. Interesting, he actually seemed concerned about someone other than himself.
“This is going to sting.” He held her hand over the sink and poured the liquid onto the cut.
Shocked by the burning sensation, she yanked her hand back. “Damn, that hurts.”
His expression softened. “I know, but I want to make sure it’s completely disinfected.”
She allowed him to grasp her hand again. His fingers encircled her wrist and warmth spread up her arm.
Their eyes met in the mirror and for a moment, neither of them moved. The corners of his eyes were softer. His full sensual lips relaxed into an inviting smile. She couldn’t look away.
“Thank you.” Maybe there was more to him than just an arrogant playboy.
He dropped his gaze to her hand then brought it up to his lips. As he brushed his smooth lips across her knuckles, he seemed to be searching for something in her eyes. The pain in her hand was forgotten as her heart threatened to explode in her chest.
The tense edge of her mouth relaxed when he looked down to wrap gauze around the wound. “You need to apply ointment twice a day. If you see any redness or swelling, or if the pain gets worse, you need to see a doctor right away, okay?”
In a daze, she nodded.
A twinkle lit up his eyes. “You realize you owe me now, right?”
His question snapped her back to reality. “I’d say name your price, but I don’t think I want to know.” Of course, he wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart.
He sat next to her and turned to face her. “I’ll settle for a kiss.”
She sat perfectly still as he leaned toward her. Her pulse leapt when his fingers grazed her sensitive earlobe as he settled a lock of hair behind it.
He whispered, “You can say no.”
Mesmerized, she wouldn’t stop him. His tongue flicked out darting across his bottom lip. She wanted more than anything in that moment to taste him, to suck and nip at his lips, to tangle her fingers in his thick, luxurious hair.
Intoxicated by the subtle scent of his cologne, she inhaled deeper, pulling his essence into her lungs. Her eyes locked on his face as he shifted closer to her. Closing her eyes in anticipation, she could hear the sound of her breath mingling with his. His wine laced breath caressed her face.
“Excuse me, Lady Caroline?”
She smacked her head against his hand as she jerked back. Scowling at her maid, she said, “Amanda, you need to knock when you enter my chambers.”
“I did knock.”
“Did you wait for a proper reply?”
The maid stared at the floor. “No, Lady Caroline.”
“I should send you to the groom the ponies in the stable this week. What do you want?”
The maid glanced from her to Edward and back to her. “The guests who are staying on the property wish to retire for the night.”
Caroline stood and towered over the maid. “You have the list of who is staying in each room.”
The maid nodded toward Edward, a wry smile crossed her face. “Does he know where he’s staying tonight?”
“He’s staying in the blue room in the west wing, not that it’s any of your concern.” She raised an eyebrow and glared at the maid.
“Should I show him to his room?”
“That won’t be necessary. I was just about to escort him out.”
What was this girl up to? She wasn’t jealous of the maid, was she? The maid excused herself then sauntered out the door.
Caroline turned to him. “It’s been a long night. I trust you remember how to get to your room?”
She struggled to read his expression and it bothered her.
He stood. “I guess it has been a long night. Until tomorrow?”
As soon as he stepped into the hallway, she closed the door. She sagged against the wall as tremors rippled along her spine. The stress of being behind on mortgage payments coupled with the stress of organizing the competition killed the ability to think clearly. She’d fallen right into a trap like all of his other playthings.
Edward Hastings is steamy, passionate and dangerous. With molten brown eyes and a rock hard body, the notorious playboy could have any woman in the world, but he only wants her. The first time he’d seen Caroline dressed like a pony, he’d been enthralled. Now, nothing will keep him from her.
They strike a deal. He’ll train her if she sticks to his rules. But rules were made to be broken. The moment he slides the bit into her mouth, she knows she’s in trouble. As he ignites a fire in her body and her mind, will she make it through the week without losing her heart to him? Or will she be able to train temptation?
She studied writing and literature through high school and into the first two years of college. But then, her fascination with other cultures and religious practices took over. She has degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Comparative Religious Studies from San Jose State University and is published in non-fiction.
After college, her life took an unexpected turn. She’s currently a project manager and technical spec writer for a Silicon Valley computer company by day and a daring novelist by night. When she’s not tearing up the felt playing at the World Series of Poker, she’s traveling to her favorite Caribbean islands.