Six years ago, Tyler Preston was on top of the equestrian world until one night nearly ruined him. Now, after years of hard work, his beloved Lochlain Racing has re-emergedshaken, but steady. Then Darci Parnell walks into his officethe woman who'd cost Tyler everything.
Darci isn't expecting a warm welcome. All she wants is a chance to make amends for that thrilling, but ultimately painful, night long ago. What Darci didn't expect was the rush of heated memories. Or the attraction to Tyler that's still so strong it urges her to put aside her pride for a second chance at forever.
About the Author
Jenna grew up in south Louisiana, amidst romantic plantation ruins, haunting swamps, and timeless legends. It's not surprising, then, that she wrote her first romance at the ripe old age of six! Three years later, this librarian's daughter turned to romantic suspense with Jacquie and the Swamp, a harrowing tale of a young woman on the run in the swamp and the dashing hero who helps her find her way home.
Since then her stories have grown in complexity, but her affinity for adventurous women and dangerous men has remained constant. She loves writing about strong characters torn between duty and desire, conscious choice and destiny.
Prior to being published, Jenna was a Golden Heart finalist and a double winner in the Silver Lining and TARA's First Impressions. She also won the prestigious Winning Beginnings, the Marlene, the Laurie, the Heart of the Rockies, Ignite the Flame, and Southern Heat, which brought her in contact with the editor at Silhouette who purchased her work.
When not writing stories brimming with deep emotion, steamy passion, and page-turning suspense, Jenna spends her time with her husband, two cats, two dogs, and a menagerie of plants in their Dallas, Texas home.
Jenna loves to hear from readers! She can be reached via email at email@example.com, or snail mail at PO Box 768, Coppell, TX, 75019.
Read an Excerpt
He stood beneath the gnarled branches of an old gum tree. The late-summer sun baked the normally lush land of Australia's Upper Hunter Valley, but the heat did not seem to touch him. He stood with uncanny ease despite his size, concealing the intense focus that simmered beneath the surface. A mere passerby would never know someone wanted him dead.
"Came in the mail, just like the first one." With a foot perched on the bottom rail of a freshly painted white fence, Tyler Preston looked from the newsprint his trainer had just handed him to the gorgeous Thoroughbred in the pasture. Lightning Chaser grazed quietly, as he always did, but Tyler knew the horse too well to fall for the illusion. He'd helped deliver the colt one damp spring night three years before. He'd been there when the big mare went into distress. He'd gone down on his knees and helped her through her delivery. He'd been the first to see the foal.
The first one to know.
Even then, in the first minutes following birth, Lightning Chaser had been tall, with the kind of presence a gangly newborn rarely possessed. There in the brightly lit barn, he'd lifted his head and shown off his blaze, and Tyler had rocked back on his haunches and known.
This was the horse.
It was a big dream, an even bigger responsibility to heap on one so young, but big dreams and big responsibilities were something Tyler knew well. He'd been given the dream by his father. He'd blown the responsibility all by himself.
It was up to him to restore Lochlain Racing to the respectability he'd trashed through one careless mistake.
And Lightning Chaser was the horse to do it.
The big bay colt stood benignly in the shadow of that lone tree, ears perked, tail swishing rhythmically. In three years they'd come far. As a two-year-old, Lightning had burned up the track, garnering seven wins to only two losses. He'd come on strong at the prestigious Queensland Stakes, pulling away from the pack and engaging the favorite in a thrilling dash for the finish.
More Than All That had crossed first.
Tyler had been disappointed, but had set his sights on the upcoming Outback Classicuntil his trainer had walked into his office the following morning. More Than All That had been disqualified. Steroids had been detected in his blood. Lightning Chaser, who'd run a close second, was named the official winner.
The racing community reeled. Allegations of fraud in the sport, quiet since the mysterious death of another racehorse, resurfaced. Everyone had their own opinion about who'd doped Sam Whittleson's horseand why.
Tyler's name had been on just about every short list.
An ocean away, in America, another branch of the Preston family had been going through an equally nasty scandal.
That's why his cousin Andrew, one of the Kentucky Prestons, had decided to run for presidency of the International Thoroughbred Racing Federation. To restore dignity to the Preston nameand integrity to the sport of kings.
With a twist to his gut, Tyler glanced down at the bold words scrawled atop the picture of Lightning Chaser. "Unmarked envelope?"
Daniel Whittleson nodded. "Just like the one my father received."
The two had known each other since they were boys, when Daniel's father had worked as a trainer at Lochlain. Sam had gone on to travel the world, eventually returning to Australia, where he'd fulfilled his dream of opening his own stables.
Daniel had stayed in America, working for Tyler's uncle until eight months before, when he'd finally come home after a dispute over water rights had landed his father in the hospital.
"How's he holding up?" Tyler asked.
"Still drinking more than I would like." A quietly serious man, Daniel looked off in the distance, where beyond the drought-parched hills, his father's property lay. "I'm not sure he's ever going to get over losing the Queensland."
It had been awkward. Daniel, Sam Whittleson's own son, had returned to Australia to take over the training of Lightning Chaser. The racing community had had a field day with Daniel's so-called desertion of his father. And though his friend seemed impervious to the criticism, Tyler knew it burned.
"No one really believes he drugged his own horse," Tyler said. Sam would have had to have been crazy to do so. Not only was he guaranteed getting caught, but More Than All That had been a favorite. The horse could have won easily without the aid of an illegal substance.
But that was a chance someone hadn't been willing to take.
"I know that," Daniel said, squinting against the glare of the sun. Over three weeks had passed since the last rain, and that had only been a few drops. "And rationally he does, too. But "
The words trailed off. Both men knew. Much like the impact of the drought on the land, the damage had been done. Sam's name had been smeared. His stables were tainted.
It was a situation Tyler knew well.
"He'll rebound," he predicted. That's what his own father had promised him six years ago. They'd stood just inside Lochlain's newly completed state-of-the-art barn. But instead of colts and fillies shuffling in their stalls, there'd been only the smell of hay and tack, and the sound of silence. In the parking area beyond the paddock, the banker had been sliding from his dust-covered sedan.
The word foreclosure had stuck in Tyler's gut.
One mistake, that's all it had taken. One lapse in judgment. One touch
His mouth flattened. Letting out a rough breath, he focused on Lightning Chaser, standing tall and proud in the hot breeze. But he saw her anyway, as she'd been that very first time, that very first nightthe straight, sunshine-blond hair and sparkling blue eyes, the wide, teasing mouth. Smiling, laughing. Lying.
The memory seared.
Shoving it aside, Tyler lowered the brim of his bush hat and turned toward Daniel. "It just takes time."
"I talked him into going on safari," Daniel said. "Bought the tickets and took him to Sydney last night. His plane left a couple of hours ago, at ten, I think."
"Well, there you go. That should be" Tyler stopped, Daniel's words registering. "A couple of hours?" Glancing at the watch his father had given him on his eighteenth birthday, a watch that had been in the Preston family for generations, he swore softly.
He'd completely lost track of time.
"Late?" Daniel asked.
"Andrew's campaign manager." She'd cooked up some big gala fund-raiser at Lochlain for the night after the upcoming Outback Classic. With that date closing in on them, she'd insisted they needed to meet in person to finalize details. Tyler didn't much care about invitations or napkins, but he did care about his cousin. And horse racing. And if the fund-raiser could help Andrew garner Aussie support, then Tyler would do his part. His cousin had been staying at Lochlain since arriving in Australia, using the stud as his base of operations.
The last thing they needed was the Australian candidate, media mogul Jackson "Jacko" Bullock, winning.
"We were supposed to meet at one." It was now one-thirty.
"I'll finish up with Lightning," Daniel offered.
"Thanks, mate," Tyler said, glancing toward Midnight Magic, the sleek black horse Daniel had raced out to the back pasture. Taking the reins, he slipped his foot into the stirrup and swung his leg over the horse's back.
"Wish me luck," he muttered, then with a gentle nudge to the horse's sides, put the animal into a lope toward the main complex.
A few white clouds drifted across the western horizon, but Tyler knew they would not bring rain. His pop had taught him that, how to tell which clouds brought rain and which only teased, just as David Preston had taught his son how to run a stud farm. The son of an Irish horseman, David had tried to pass on all that his own father had taught him, but Tyler had needed little teaching. He'd been riding before he'd started running.
It was in the blood, David had decided. His eldest son had received the Preston horse gene. His younger, Shane, had not.
With the blistering sun beating down on him, Tyler urged Midnight Magic toward one of the three barns on the far side of the paddock. A fourth was under construction. The mares and new foals had claim to the largest structure. His two- and three-year-olds occupied the middle building. The third, original structure, was used primarily for Loch-lain's boarding business.
The buzz of activity intensified as he approached. Most of the training was done for the day, had taken place during the cooler hours before sunrise. But there was still work to be done, and like clockwork, young Heidi Hastings stood in the shade of several gum trees, feeding an apple to her little filly, Anthem. Her father didn't understand her fixation with the animal she'd sweet-talked him into buying, but Tyler suspected Heidi's frequent presence at Lochlain had as much to do with a certain groom hovering nearby as it did her interest in horses.
"Afternoon," he called as his three border collies bounded up to greet him. Carbine and Windbag were pushing ten, but they still thought they were as young as the pup, Tulloch.
Heidi glanced up with a smile so bloody sweet, Tyler winced. Her father was a good man, but Tyler didn't know how any man could raise a kid alone, much less a young girl racing toward womanhood.
"I think something's wrong," she said, with worry both in her eyes and her voice. "She doesn't want her apple."
Tyler's chest tightened. Bloody hellafter the girl's mother abandoned them, Dylan Hastings had his hands more than full. "Just the heat," Tyler said. The animals didn't like it any more than the humans did. They needed rainbadly. But with rain would come lightning, and with the land as parched as a sponge in dry rot, lightning could mean disaster.
Just the week before, some bloke had tossed a cigarette out the car window, and before the sun had set, more than a hundred acres of bush had been scorched. Two national parks had been lost.
"Try this," he added, pulling a couple of peppermints from his back pocket. He tossed them to her and winked. "Anthem just needs a treat is all."
Heidi's smile turned lopsided. "Thanks, I should have thought of that myself."
"You will," he promised in the best fatherly voice he could find. "Just give it"
A blur of motion from the office complex snagged his attention. He squinted against the glare, bringing his office manager, Peggy, into view. She hurried toward him something she rarely did. In her midfifties, she was an air-conditioning kind of woman.
"time," he finished, pulling Midnight Magic to a stop. He swung his leg over the horse and handed the reins to one of the young groomsZach, Heidi's so-called "friend." "Cool him off," he instructed, already striding toward Peggy.
"Mr. Preston," she called as she always did, refusing to call him Tyler, as he'd asked her to a million or so times. She was a stickler for formality, a master at organization, and somehow kept the administrative side of the business running smoothly. "Your one o'clock is here."
Tyler glanced toward the parking area, where a shiny white convertible sat in the closest space. Looked as though he'd have to talk napkins after all.
"On my way," he said, veering toward the office building's shaded entrance. The first stones had been laid six years before, but the facility had only been completed the previous winter.
"But aren't you"
With Windbag trotting at his heels, Tyler stopped and pivoted, felt his mouth curve at the look of horror on Peggy's face. She was old enough to be his mother barelybut she almost never questioned him. And never, ever corrected him.
"Yes?" he prodded, trying not to laugh.
She bit down on her lip. "Nothing. I just thought well, she's a pretty thing. I thought maybe you'd want to clean up first."
Now he did laugh. Loudly. A pretty thing. It figured. His mother, his new sister-in-law, his office manager even Daniel's American wife. It seemed the women of Lochlain and the surrounding area had a bloody intense case of matchmaking fever.
"Freshen up?" Without cracking a smile, he glanced down at the damp white cotton pressed against his skin, his dusty jeans and mud-caked boots, then shot the dog a grin. "What? She thinks I might run the party planner off?"
Peggy had the good grace to flush. "Of course not I just thought "
"Right-oh," he said, adjusting the bush hat that had seen rain and heat and far better days. He knew what Peggy thought what they all thought. Thirty-four years old was well and past time for the Preston heir to settle down.
"No worries," he deadpanned with a quick rub of the old dog's head. "I'm sure Miss" He slipped off his sunglasses, but couldn't come up with Andrew's campaign manager's name. "I'm late enough as it is. I'm sure she'd rather get this over with than wait for me to shower."
Peggy sighed. "You make it sound like torture."
She knew him well. He wasn't a party kind of guy. He didn't do galas and benefits. He didn't do tuxedos or cologne. He only knew a Shiraz from a Chardonnay because his mother, daughter of a local vintner, had drilled it into her boys.
With his best trust-me smile, Tyler sent the dog off to play and strode toward the office.
Air-conditioning blasted him the second he walked inside. The scent of vanilla and sandalwood came next, courtesy of the cluster of candles Peggy kept on her desk. Just because she worked at a stable didn't mean she had to smell hay and manure all day, she insisted.
It was a modest building by comparison to the nearby Fairchild Acres, but with four offices, a file room, a video room and adjacent meeting room, plus a small lunchroom, the facility suited him. He'd left the decor to Peggy, who'd chosen the same dark woods and rustic furniture found in the main house a couple of hundred meters away.
With the thud of his boots against the hardwood floor drowning out the soft, new age music Peggy said created ambience, Tyler covered the distance to his office and pushed through the partially open door. He had less than twenty minutes to give her. Andrew had departed Sydney a little before noon. He'd return to the stud soon. They had business to discuss. Andrew needed to know about the recent threats. Any talk of the party
She had her back to him, but the gruff words Tyler had been about to offer stuck in his throat anyway. She stood there so unnaturally still, her posture boarding-school perfect, pale blond hair fastened behind her head in some sleek, elegant twist. A tidy cream suit hugged her willowy frame much too tightly considering the heat that baked the valley. She had to be burning
The scent slammed into him on a soft wave of air-conditioning, the unmistakable whisper of baby powder and rosesand everything inside of Tyler tightened.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Tyler Preston¿s dream of retuning his Lochlain Racing to its former glory has turned into a nightmare. He and his stable have been caught up in a thoroughbred doping scandal; leaving the reputations of both shattered.
Meanwhile his former lover, Darci Parnell manages the campaign for the International Thoroughbred Racing Federation presidency of Tyler¿s cousin Andrew. The sure shot has been damaged by Andrew¿s blood relationship to scandalized Tyler, cleverly used by opponent Jacko Bullock. Darci is in town for damage control. Still attracted to one another, an arson¿s fire in a barn kills a hand and placed the stable¿s top horse in danger. As Darci and Tyler work together to uncover who wants him destroyed, neither trusts the other with their heart.
DARCI¿S PRIDE is a terrific ¿special edition¿ of the Thoroughbred Legacy saga due to the lead couple. They were lovers whose relationship died a few years ago on the same night his stable almost perished; now they must trust one another to uncover the truth, but both holds the other culpable for what happened between them. Jenna Mills provides a strong character driven horse racing romance.