BEST BOOK OF 2011 NOMINEE -- LONG AND SHORT REVIEWS
"Claire Ashgrove wins a Triple Crown with Seduction's Stakes, a
wonderful story, unforgettable characters and an amazing love story."
LONG AND SHORT REVIEWS - 5+ Stars, Best Book
“I absolutely adored this story. I was immediately drawn into it not only
because of the horse storyline, but also how well each of the
characters played off each other”
NIGHTOWL ROMANCE REVIEWS - 5 Stars, Top Pick
“Seduction’s Stakes was funny, witty, and emotional, and I
loved every moment of it.”
SIZZLING HOT BOOKS - 4 Stars
"And it's Infidelity on the turn for home with Mister Spoilsport trailing on the inside. Brimstone makes a break for it, passing Mister Spoilsport, but it's Infidelity blazing ahead. Here comes Mister Spoilsport on the inside, nip and tuck for a short lead, Infidelity on a hard chase now. Mister Spoilsport is going away! Two and a half lengths ahead! Mister Spoilsport for the win at two minutes flat! He earns his place next to Northern Dancer today, folks! Infidelity comes in second, with Brimstone for the show."
"Damn it!" Maddie McCleery exploded as she thumped her clenched fist against the painted grandstand railing. "What is with Jennings' horses? Infidelity should have won, Sybil! He's been leaving everyone in the dust all spring."
She turned her glower on her best friend as she gave in to a fit of frustrated fury. Under normal circumstances, she'd have felt blessed to have her horse take second at the Kentucky Derby. But faced with Riley Jennings' stolen victory, today's place left a stale taste in her mouth. No matter how she tried, she simply couldn't beat the man. Her horses could win all season long, and the moment his entered the field, she inevitably came in behind. Usually right behind. Nose to nose type of behind. Today though, he rubbed it in like salt on a wound with the two and a half length distance.
Sybil reached up to reposition her wind-blown, pale lavender, straw hat. "Who knows, Maddie. The man's just lucky. Damn hot though. Think you'd introduce me?"
Maddie rolled her eyes. Leave it to Sybil to focus on men when the horse she'd just wagered over five thousand dollars on failed to win. But then, to Sybil, money grew on trees. Win or lose, she didn't care. Her agenda today was simply to find the best looking man out of the elite group of trainers and owners to add to her never-ending list of wealthy idiots that fawned over her shocking red hair and size 'D' boobs.
"Don't you need to go down to the infield and collect your horse or something? Look, he's already down there. If we go now, we might bump into him in the tunnel." Sybil rose to tiptoe, peeking over the crowd to watch Riley waltz with his horse toward the winner's circle.
"They aren't interested in my boy now. Second means little to the press. I need to go pay my jockey. I'd like to get to the barns before Jennings does." To accomplish that, she'd need to hurry. She couldn't understand it. Why they always lost to Riley. No matter the horse, no matter the field, no matter the terrain. They always lost. She was sick to death of losing.
"Take me with you to Harvey Weatherson's Derby Day banquet tonight? I've got to meet Riley, Maddie. I've been sitting back waiting for you to do something, but if you aren't going to, I'm not waiting any longer."
Fed up with her friend's incessant comments, Maddie clenched her fingers around the railing and sucked in a sharp breath. Letting it out, she counted to ten before turning an annoyed look on her childhood friend. "Oh, for the love of God, knock it off already. Riley Jennings is a pig. Every time I've seen him there's a different girl on his arm. His ego is as big as China, and sure he's nice to look at, but Jesus, Sybil, have a little class. You know I can't stand that man."
Sybil blinked her surprise. With a look that asked Maddie if she'd lost her mind, she lifted one strawberry eyebrow and countered, "You used to like him a great deal if I remember right. Skinny-dipping with him and all."
Maddie tensed with the reminder. She'd tried to forget that long-ago memory. "We were kids then, and that was years ago. Before he inherited his father's racing farm and started rubbing my nose in the dirt."
The crowd broke out in another roar of cheers, and Maddie looked to the winner's circle. Ben Farley sat atop the black colt, sporting a wide smile. The jockey touched his fingers to his green and navy helmet and offered Riley a nod of respectful acknowledgement. She let her gaze settle on Riley. Six foot tall, if not a little taller, his broad shoulders spoke of strength even hidden beneath a khaki-colored suit jacket. Kept in a stylish cut, his wavy brown hair glinted with the bright springtime sunlight, and in the light breeze, every now and then, it tumbled over one eye. Had he been any other man, she would have shared Sybil's interest.
Observing Riley's self-satisfied smile, Maddie glowered again. Pompous ass.
"I need to get to the barns, Sybil. Before the rest of the owners file in and I get stuck there."
"I'll walk down that way with you. I'm sure Andy has the car waiting near the entrance, and I think I'll head out before traffic turns into a nightmare." Sybil picked her small clutch off her seat and tucked it under her arm. "If the man bothers you that much, you need to find a way to beat him. Maybe then you'll see how freakin' hot he really is. Any luck buying the colt of his you want?"
Shaking her head as she navigated the stone stairs in her uncomfortable heels, Maddie's attention wavered to the breathtaking grey colt Riley wanted to sell. He'd refused her three hundred thousand dollar offer, and his subsequent laughter had humiliated her. He wanted double, at least. Not unheard of in the racing circuit, and nothing she couldn't immediately do, but far higher than her pride could accept. "He had some fancy schmancy excuse, but I suspect he's refusing because I won't go out on a date with him."
"Which I completely don't get. The man's eyes about fall out of his head every time he looks at you. Maddie, please. If you won't introduce me to him, let me live vicariously through you. Go out with the guy. I bet he could make a woman orgasm for hours."
She rounded into the walkway leading to the long tunnel that would, a half mile later, open to the barn area, and folded her arms across her chest in defiance. "If you say one more thing about Riley Jennings, I'm going to smack you, Sybil. I don't get involved with racing men. Period. They're nothing but trouble. I've yet to meet a one of them that isn't opposed to hedging life's bets."
"Have you considered that if you dated him, you might just get that colt?"
"Sybil," she exclaimed, exasperated. "I am not bartering my body for a horse!"
"I didn't say that." She pulled on the ribbon beneath her chin and tugged her hat off her head, shaking out her wealth of curly red hair. "At no time did I mention sex, bodies, petting, touching—anything along those lines. I said date."
She'd also said orgasm, but Maddie didn't feel like reminding her. Instead, she frowned. At thirty-one years old, Riley had only improved with age. The lanky, but handsome, eighteen-year-old she'd lost a round of Truth or Dare to transformed into a broad-shouldered, confident man, whose commanding presence not only garnered him respect with racing's elite, but also left a trail of simpering women in his wake. She wasn't about to become one of them.
Then again, what Sybil proposed had merit. One date. Heat him up a little. Stroke his ego. Perhaps stroke something else—over his clothes of course. Insinuate promises she didn't intend to fulfill, and he'd give in to her proposed offer before he realized she wouldn't follow through. A trick older than time itself.
She wanted that colt. It was the one horse with the propensity to beat Riley's on the field. That win would be even more satisfying than any other—his own homebred horse stealing away his constant victory.
A smile crept across her face. No, it wasn't such a bad idea after all. She could do it tonight even. While she wouldn't be privy to Churchill Downs' winner's celebration, she would be at Harvey Weatherson's banquet. Riley's ego wouldn't let him stay away. He'd want to hear the praise over Mister Spoilsport. Not to mention, the added chaos of an abundance of guests would keep him distracted just enough he wouldn't see through her plan.
The longer she thought about it, the more she could feel the sweet taste of victory, and the more tempting the idea became.
Beneath the wreath of red roses hanging around Mister Spoilsport's neck, Riley Jennings' fingers smoothed the horse's black hair. Kentucky Derby winner—he couldn't believe it. He'd prepared for this day since he was a little boy who followed his father around the shed row. They'd come close on two occasions, but today the dream came true. The crowning moment to three generations of Jennings racing. How he wished his father could have seen Mister Spoilsport run.
He pressed a kiss against his horse's neck. "This one's for you, Pop."
As the last of the reporters disappeared, he handed the big black's reins to his groom and clapped the young man on the shoulder. "We did it, Scott. Take this boy on over to the veterinary shed. When you're done, take him back to the barns and hose his legs down. Go ahead and wrap them tonight. I'll meet you there."
Unlike any racing owner he could recall—and his memory held countless names—he was the only man who both owned, and trained, his horses. He suspected he was the only one qualified, as the rest of the owners had more experience with money than any actual horse management. As such, his victory was doubly rewarding.
"Sure thing, boss."
The man was more boy than adult, and when he grinned, Scott's freckled cheeks only emphasized his youth. But he was good with horses. Damn good, Riley thought, as the gangly twenty-year-old marched Mister Spoilsport away to a soft whistling melody.
The horse pricked his ears and bumped Scott's elbow with his nose.
The groom responded with an affectionate pat and a peppermint disk.
He reminded Riley of himself.
Clutching his trophy beneath one arm, he turned toward the twin spires that marked the Jockey Club. Staring at the legendary edifice, he committed the vision to memory. He didn't intend to forget this once-in-a-lifetime view.
With a shake of his pants leg, he knocked off the dust and headed for the underground tunnel that would lead him to the stabling area. The throngs of people already flooded out of the grandstand and infield, moving in waves that resembled a brightly colored, stormy sea. In their wake, debris cluttered the ground—plastic cups, forgotten hats, an occasional shoe—all souvenirs for the lucky grounds people that would spend the next week cleaning up.
The long walk felt much shorter against the thrill of winning. What he remembered as a bittersweet journey in years previous, now felt like a short jaunt around the block. Down the outside trail, he waved to the reporters and spectators alike that yelled their congratulations. A few men and cameras waited at Mister Spoilsport's stall, conversing with Ben, no doubt, about his first Derby win. Never one who really enjoyed the spotlight, he headed for the small shed where owners and trainers gathered to both celebrate and commiserate.
Pushing open the door to the small, but busy, building, he stepped inside the noise. Across the room, talking with the renown jockey Arthur Cormak, a swathe of blonde hair drew his immediate attention.
The sexiest racehorse owner he'd ever met. Damned if just hearing her voice didn't short-circuit his libido.
Stepping around a burly man with biceps as wide as Riley's thigh—no doubt one of Sheikh Ramana's bodyguards—he angled his head to get a better look at her.
Today, she'd freed her long golden hair from its usual loose ponytail, and beneath her wide straw bonnet, it hung like fine silk down her back. The ends of it brushed against the top of her delicious little ass. For a moment, he pictured her naked. God, what heaven she would be. Tanned skin that probably didn't have a bathing suit line, flush up against that beautiful hair. Like a bright flag marking the way to treasure. Inviting him to explore.
At that moment, she dropped her pen and bent to pick it up. Her ankle-length, gauze-like sundress molded itself to the very same delectable bottom he was imagining. No panties. No telltale mark of any kind of underwear. Soft, curvy, pert. Riley felt his cock stiffen in response. She was all glorious and free beneath that flimsy dress. Sheer torture.
"Nice little treat, ain't she?" Harvey Weatherson set one age-spotted hand on Riley's shoulder and offered him a cigar with the other. "Ain't a man in here who wouldn't give his nuts if they thought they had a chance at tasting that slice of pie." His weathered features wrinkled into an amused grin, and his watery-blue eyes sparkled as he added in a lower voice, "Including me. Don't be tellin' Pearl that, though. She'd cut mine off for just thinkin' about it."
Riley laughed and shook his head. "Don't worry, Harvey. I won't tell Pearl a thing."
Accepting the cigar, he put the end of it in his teeth and gnawed on it. He didn't smoke, but every now and then, he enjoyed the unlit flavor. His eyes strayed back to Maddie.
"Best put it out of your mind, son. She's made it known she won't have a thing to do with anyone involved in racing."
Riley didn't need Harvey to tell him that. He already knew. He was still trying to learn his lesson, however. He'd asked her out at least a dozen times, and each time she refused. But the little flash of interest behind her dark green eyes said something entirely different. It reminded him of the seventeen-year-old twig who once had a crush on him. Tall and thin, back then, she hadn't even been able to fill out her bikini. Now, however, he mused as she turned sideways and he caught a glimpse of her ample breasts, she was all grown up. And those damn green eyes of hers kept him coming back time and again, to try. One day, her words would match the message they conveyed.
"Nice win, son. You know that time ties you with Northern Dancer's 1964 run, don't you? Puts your stud colt right up there with the Hall of Famers." Harvey's blue eyes twinkled again.
Riley nodded, but he hesitated with his response. He didn't intend to jinx the future by assuming too much ahead of time. "Let's just hope he's on his game at the Preakness."
"Aw hell, Pimlico is a shorter race. Mister Spoilsport shouldn't have any problem there. Got your eye on the Triple Crown, do ya, son?"
The old man burst into raspy laughter and smacked his bony palm against Riley back.
At the sound of Harvey's wheezing cackle, Maddie turned around. Her eyes fell on Riley, their shimmering light speaking volumes as they worked their slow way up from his loafer-clad feet, along his Armani suit pants, and at last, to his face. His pulse jumped in response to her blatant appreciation, blood flooded to his groin, and his stomach clenched into a knot.
He summoned a lazy smile and dipped his head in an acknowledging nod.
She turned away, but not before he noticed the blush that crept into her cheeks.
Riley made his mind up, right then and there. Maddie McCleery wouldn't tell him no again. One way or the other, he'd taste that sultry mouth of hers, feel it skate across his body. If he had to use his two-year-old colt as a bargaining chip, he would.
She finished her business with Cormak and started for the door.
As she passed him, he reached out, grabbed her elbow, and pulled her to a halt. "Nice run with Infidelity today, Maddie." He winced inwardly. What a stupid thing to say after the look she just gave him. Yet, there it was, all business, nothing that opened the door to invitation of a more personal nature. It was all he could think to say.
He wasn't even certain what prompted him to stop her—other than the sudden need to touch. His impulse was rewarded, though. Beneath his fingers, her skin burned into his. When her mouth fell open in startled surprise, he couldn't tear his eyes off it. Soft, full, moist. Would she taste like today's mint juleps? Or would she be sweet, sugary?
He needed to know.
Her shock vanished, replaced by a polite smile. "Thank you, Riley. Congratulations to you too."
She gave a little tug on her arm, but Riley held fast. Her skin was far too soft to let her go just yet. He brushed his thumb over the inside of her upper arm. What he hadn't intended to do—and didn't realize he had until it was too late—was draw her closer to him by refusing to turn her loose. Almost nose-to-nose with her now, just a few inches away from her face, the soft fall of her breath brushed across his cheek. Mint. Definitely mint. He checked a groan as he felt the tightness pull at his pants again.
"You're coming over to my place tonight, aren't you? Pearl loves to see you, Maddie." Harvey dropped the casual air he assumed with men and reverted to a polite, respectful tone, much more representative of his generation.
At Maddie's light laugh, Riley's heart stumbled. Husky, yet whimsical. He'd never heard that quality in her voice before, and it did all kinds of new things to his system. Things like flip his gut upside down and strain his cock further. Almost uncomfortably hard, he fought the urge to shift his weight to make room in his pants. Thank God, they were loose, or he'd embarrass himself by not being able to hide his erection.
"I'll be there, Harvey. Tell Pearl I won't forget her."
She glanced down at Riley's hand before lifting her brows in silent question. He jerked his hand back, mindful of the intimacy of their closeness, and shoved it into his deep pocket. But when she tipped her head ever so slightly to the side and lowered her lashes a fraction, looking at him with those expressive green eyes, his mouth went dry.
"You'll be there, won't you, Riley?"
He recovered enough to summon a quick smile. Not trusting his voice, he said only, "Of course."
"Good, good," Harvey exclaimed. "Don't either of you be forgettin' Pearl's made it a formal affair. Neither one of you attended last year, and Pearl got tired of seein' jeans and cotton shirts. Said she saw enough of them out in the barns."
Maddie flashed him a bright smile and quipped, "I picked out a special dress just for the occasion."
Moving closer to the exit, she paused mid-step and looked over her shoulder. Her eyes locked on Riley's once again, and there was no doubt about it—they held candid invitation. "Do save me a chair, Riley."
The corner of his mouth pulled up in a grin as he nodded. He'd save her a chair. In Harvey's secluded garden, right near the fountain. Where no one could witness the way he intended to kiss her.
With a wag of her slender fingers, she stepped outside, leaving him to gulp in the lingering faintness of her floral perfume and stare at the mesmerizing sway of her hips.
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