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"Damn snow wasn't supposed to reach this far till tomorrow," he growled, switching the windshield wipers to maximum speed. "And we should have been here two days ago."
"Two flat tires and five horses make for slow traveling." Coming from the back seat, Terry O'Neal's brogue was as thick as the day he left Ireland thirty years ago.
"Tell me something I don't know." Rhys shifted his weight from hipbone to hipbone and flicked the switch for the seat heater to high. The escalating ache in his back measured exactly how much effort he'd put into this trip and how much stress he'd undertaken.
"All right, then." Terry rattled the map. "Your turn's coming up on the left."
"Thank God." A glance toward the passenger side showed his son's posture unchanged, head turned to look out the window at the white blanket shrouding trees and road alike. No sign of interest, or fatigue, or anything remotely resembling enthusiasm had slipped through Andrew's guard since leaving New York. He might as well have declared himself a hostage.
Perhaps he was - a hostage to his father's failure.
For now, though, the struggle was not father against son but man against nature. Rhys eased his foot onto the brake and felt the tires skid.
"There has to be six inches of snow on this road, over a layer of ice. Have these people ever heard of snowplows?" With the weight of the trailer behind him, he needed all the traction he could get - which appeared to be none, as the truck continued to slide despite antilock brakes and four-wheel drive.
Rhys muttered a string of curses. "I can't stop the damn thing."
"Just take the corner," Terry advised, leaning forward between the seats. "Wide as you can."
Teeth gritted, Rhys didn't have time for another smart answer. He turned the steering wheel gently to the left, avoiding thoughts of what would happen if the trailer behind him twisted or, worse, capsized. Holding his breath, he glanced at the rearview mirror to see the rig behind him come into line. All he had to do was straighten up a bit and they'd be headed down the lane, none the worse for their little skating adventure.
Then the truck's front tire jolted into a deep hole on the right side. "Oh, Jesus," Terry groaned. "What now?"
The rear wheel followed. Before Rhys could brake, the trailer's double wheel, loaded with two and a half tons of horse, dropped into the pit and stuck fast. Their forward progress skidded to a shuddering, lurching stop.
Swearing, Rhys released his seat belt and jumped down into the snow, wincing as the impact jarred his back. His first glance at the trailer showed him the worst - a forty-foot conveyance tilted to the side of the road at a steep angle, containing five animals known for their tendency to panic at the bite of a fly.
Terry charged past him. "Got to get them out," he muttered through the fog of his breath, "'fore they go hurting themselves."
"And how are we going to tie up horses in an empty field in the middle of a snowstorm?" Rhys joined the older man in letting down the back ramp and opening the double doors.
"And we're waiting for divine revelation?"
"Better revelation than a broken leg."
Three horses were loaded side by side at this end, facing forward and trying to keep their balance on the sloping floor. An ominous thumping came from one of the berths at the other end of the trailer.
Rhys put a hand on Terry's shoulder. "You unload here. I'll start at the front end."
"You can't bring that stallion out by yourself."
"I'll get Andrew to help."
"That'll be a trick."
Contrary to Terry's pessimism, Andrew had sized up the situation and solved one of their problems already. As Rhys headed to the center door of the trailer, he saw that his son had found a pair of trees off to the left and was stringing a line between them to which the horses could be tied.
"Good idea," Rhys called across the snowy ground. Andrew didn't hear, or chose not to. Either way, he didn't react.
But within the trailer, Imperator had heard his master's voice. His shrill whinny ratcheted the anxiety of the other horses up several notches. Rhys got the ramp down and the door open just in time to see the big Thoroughbred hunch, elevating his hindquarters. With the sound of a cannon shot, both hooves impacted the wall of his stall.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph." Beside the trailer, Terry hung on to a lead rope as the bay gelding on the other end, taking exception to Imperator's display, attempted to rear. By the sound of it, the horses still in the trailer with Imperator were on the verge of outright revolt. "Down, Abner. Down."
Rhys climbed into the trailer to stand spread legged in front of his stallion. "Okay, big boy, we got the message. You want out. Can you be halfway cool about this?"
Eyes wide, nostrils flaring, Imperator was anything but cool. His winter coat of thick black hair was streaked with sweat. He didn't travel well at the best of times, and this morning's tranquilizer had worn off a couple of hours ago - the scheduled time of their arrival before the intervention of the storm.
"Settle down, son." Rhys stroked a hand along the arch of Imperator's neck. "Just a little uneven ground, here. You're the best there is over hills."
The horse pawed the floor with an impatient hoof, barely missing the toe of Rhys's boot.
"Get you out, is what you're saying. Right. Just don't kill me in the process." He untied the lead rope from the ring on the wall and stepped back as Imperator lunged against the padded breast bar keeping him in the stall.
"No." Snapping the rope taut, Rhys put steel into his voice. "Back up. Back up," he ordered, pressing his fist into the stallion's chest. "You heard me. Back." Imperator brought his own stern will to the argument, refusing to retreat. Snow blew into the trailer, along with a cold wind that froze Rhys's rear end and stiffened the tense muscles in his back.
Giving in, however, would destroy what control he might possess over this powerful animal. He jerked the lead rope once more, pulling the horse's head down until they met eye to eye. "Imperator. Back. Now."
Excerpted from The Fake Husband by Lynnette, Kent Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 14, 2003
As the snow storm makes travel treacherous as far south as North Carolina, Olympic rider Rhys Lewellyn leaves a message for Ladysmith Farrier Service to help him with his three horses that he has stabled at Fairfield Farms. Jacquie ¿Lennon¿ Archer, owner of Ladysmith, is stunned as this is the worse that could happen to her as he is the father of her child Erin, a fact that only she knows. There was never any Mr. Archer as Jacquie never married but used a made-up spouse to legitimize Erin. <P>Jacquie knows the time to tell the truth has arrived. She still loves Rhys and always will, but he returned to his wife while she left New York alone and pregnant. Rhys, in turn, loves Jacquie, but has never forgiven her for deserting him. She wonders how he will react to meeting his daughter in whom he missed her infant years. Worse in Jacquie¿s mind is how will her beloved Erin react not to just meeting her father for the first time but to her for her mendaciousness. <P>Though the underlying theme of not informing a father that he sired a child seems hackneyed, Lynette Kent keeps her tale brisk and fresh as the weather in her contemporary through a fine lead couple and solid supporting cast including several horses. The story line engages the readers from the moment that Lynette feels like dying when she listens to the voice message until relationships are resolved. Fans will appreciate this warm tale of a second chance at love complicated by Erin. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.