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About the Author
Susan Johnson is the award-winning, national bestselling author of the novels Hot Spot, Hot Legs, and Hot Pink, among others.
Diane Whiteside is the author of The Irish Devil and other erotic romances.
Read an Excerpt
NOT JUST FOR TONIGHT
By SUSAN JOHNSON KATHERINE O'NEAL DIANE WHITESIDE
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEpsom, England May, 1889
Even though the sun had just risen, the training stables at Sefton's were bustling with activity. The prestigious Derby would run in two days and every horse scheduled for the event was being pampered and scrutinized in equal measure to assure each thoroughbred's conditioning was prime.
Miss Evelyn Sweet stepped down from her carriage into the stable yard carrying the apples her champion racehorse favored for his morning appetizer. The gutsy bay had left an indelible mark on the turf in America during his first season, and Eve was in England now to test his prowess against the best horses on the Continent. After taking easy wins in all the spring meets, Montana Beau was being touted as the horse to beat in The Derby.
Eve half smiled as she entered the stable, knowing her late father would have been proud of the colt he'd picked as a winner from the moment he'd been foaled. But then, no one could pick a winner better than Colonel Evelyn "Copper King" Sweet, who had purchased Montana Mining's unproductive mine at Butte for a fire-sale price and struck the largest copper lode in the world.
A familiar sight at the stables, her masculine-tailored riding habit and black homburg as well known as her tall, slender form and golden hair, she greeted the various grooms and lads with a friendly word or two in her transit down the corridor between the stalls. Subscribing to her father's hands-on policy with regard to his racehorses, she came to the stables daily. "Sweet Eve," as her father had called her and the world at large had come to know her, knew horseflesh as well as any man. She understood horses even better, thanks to a close friendship with the Absarokee tribes in her native Montana. The best horsemen on the Northern Plains had taught her not only to care for her horses, but to listen to them, and she'd learned her lessons well. She knew how to nurture and train racers who liked to win. Beau was one of several she'd owned that had never been beaten. And while she didn't wager outrageous sums on any race-she was in the sport for reasons other than money-she didn't mind winning a bet or two on her ponies.
Swinging the small sack of apples, she continued down the wide, cobblestone passage, her boot heels keeping a brisk cadence on the recently swept floor. The stable had been mucked out before sunrise, the scent of fresh bedding pungent in the air; horses were being fed and groomed now, some mounts already were saddled and waiting to be led out for the morning gallops.
Just short of Beau's stall, she paused to let a groom shouldering a bale of hay cross her path. He was larger than the usual stable lad or she wouldn't have taken notice. Or maybe it was his muscled shoulders beneath his jersey shirt that caught her eye, or his strong, tanned arms and tousled black hair.
Black Irish, she thought, nodding at him as he flashed her a smile.
With a good deal of Viking blood somewhere in his past, she surmised, with that height and muscled strength.
As he opened the door of the box stall next to Beau's and walked inside, she moved past and called out a bright "Good morning, sweetheart" to her horse. Sliding the door latch aside, she entered the stall. With a welcoming whinny, he nudged the sack with his nose, impatient to get at his favorite treats. "Have you been good?" she teased, taking out an apple and smiling as he took a fastidious bite. For a brute of a horse, Beau ate with unusual daintiness, consuming the apples she'd brought for him with deliberation until they were all gone and he'd lipped the last trace of apple juice from her palm.
"That's all for today, baby," she murmured, rubbing his nose. "Now give me a kiss."
As the huge bay nuzzled her cheek, a male voice from behind her murmured, "Lucky horse."
She swung around to find the Irish groom lounging in the doorway, surveying her with a grin. "I beg your pardon," she said, somewhat coolly. Not that she subscribed to rigid class rank as did many in England. But the man was cheeky even by American standards, his gaze traveling up and down her body in unhurried appraisal.
Apparently immune to the coolness in her voice, his grin widened. "No wonder Montana Beau's winning if he's getting kisses every morning."
"Don't you have some work to do?" she crisply asked, adjusting her judgement about him being Irish after hearing him speak.
"Not at the moment. Would you like me to saddle Beau for his morning run?"
"No, thank you. Archie will be here soon, I'm sure."
"Actually, he won't. He's a bit under the weather."
Her gaze narrowed. "And how do you know that?"
"We tipped a few last night. An argument ensued-not with me, but with others in the pub. Your American horse has his detractors. Archie came to your racer's defense, but I'm afraid he lost out to a ruffian who didn't play fair. The man has since seen the error of his ways," the groom added, softly. "But Archie is rather out of commission this morning. So if you'd like my assistance-"
His gaze was too bold by half, as was his impudent smile. "George will have made some arrangements, I suspect, but thank you for the offer," she said with icy politeness. The trainer, George Sefton, understood rich clients, his sycophancy fine-tuned and silken smooth. If Archie was indisposed this morning, George would see to it that her horse was taken care of by someone else.
"Now I've made you angry," the dark-eyed man murmured, pushing away from the jamb.
"I don't know you, nor do I wish to. If you'll excuse me," she added, moving forward, "I'll deal with this myself. George is usually in the stable yard this time of day."
"Not today. He went up to London."
She brushed past him. "Then Bertie will have to do. If you'd be so kind as to move aside," she said, crisply, "I'll latch Beau's door."
"Allow me," he said, stepping aside and reaching for the wrought iron handle.
"That won't be necessary." There was something infuriating about the man, an insolence beneath the soft voice, an overfamiliarity as though his dark good looks allowed him such license. But her head wasn't so easily turned; she'd known any number of handsome men.
They stood facing each other in the open doorway for a taut moment.
She was tall, but he was much taller and so broad in the shoulder he blocked out the light from the distant doorway. Nor could she help but notice how his shirt clung to his torso with the heat of the day.
Wrenching her gaze away, she tersely said, "Please leave."
"I've offended you. I apologize."
And had his eyes not held a twinkle of humor, she might have believed him. "No, you don't," she said, her spine rigid. "Now, if you don't mind." Her gaze moved to his hand resting on the door handle.
"I've heard you like your way." One dark brow arched upward. "You really do."
"Yes, I do. Take your hand off the latch."
"And if I don't?"
She blew out a breath, exasperated with his impertinence, more annoyed that she found herself even acknowledging the impact of his physical appearance. "I'm sure your facile charm has moved many a faint heart, but mine is not one, I assure you," she said, firmly. "If you don't leave this instant, I'll see that George hears of your insolence."
"Mornin', me Lord, Ma'am," a stable lad said at that exact moment, putting a deferential finger to the brim of his cap as he walked by.
"My Lord?" Eve skewered the dark-haired man with a piercing gaze. "What sort of game are you playing?"
"The Marquis of Vigne at your service, Ma'am." Bowing faintly, he offered her a look of unalloyed innocence. "Call me Nick. Everyone does."
"Nicholas DeLacey?" The peer with the best stable in England, not to mention the most scandalous reputation on seven continents.
"One and the same." He spoke now in soft, clipped, aristocratic tones.
"And you were amusing yourself at my expense?"
"Not at all, I assure you. I was just trying to be helpful." Sweet Eve was as beautiful as gossip had suggested, and while they may not have met before, her reputation had preceded her-both on and off the track. An heiress renowned for her beauty and temper, despite her divorce was still perceived as supremely eligible. Her vast fortune, of course, was of interest to men who had none, while her beauty and unconventional views on female independence were lures to every self-styled Lothario, moneyed or not.
And had he not been in Paris lately, they would have met sooner.
"I don't need your help. Good day, Vigne." She walked away, not in the mood to trade quips with a man who had slept with so many women even the most avid gossips had long since given up tallying his score. After her disastrous marriage and divorce, she took more interest in horses than men.
Nick watched her walk off, her long-legged stride giving rise to the most intriguing sway of her hips. He and Miss Sweet would no doubt meet again, he pleasantly reflected. Since they were both racing their ponies in the premier races of the season, the possibility of getting to know each other was excellent. Their thoroughbreds were well matched; he had a feeling they might be as well.
Rumor had it she'd been denied nothing by an overindulgent father and in general did as she pleased. Circumstances very familiar to him. Word also had it she wasn't averse to indulging her sexual desires. Which meant they had considerably more in common than father figures and horses. And he liked her prickly temper and high mettle. She was different from the adoring women with whom he was too familiar. Persuading the beautiful young heiress from America to join him in bed might add a new measure of excitement to the race season.
Would she be as insolent in bed?
Shutting the stall door, he called over a stable lad to see to Montana Beau and set out to locate his groom. It was all well and good to contemplate fucking the provocative little heiress, but right now, his thoroughbred, Mandalay, needed attention.
Winning races came first.
Chapter TwoReally, Vigne was the most exasperating man, Eve thought, walking out into the busy stable yard. But then, so many in the aristocracy were, thinking their titles somehow made them superior. In the West, the only trait recognized as superior was the will to survive, and she'd seen hundreds of men in the rough-and-tumble world she came from more qualified to preeminence than the Marquis of Vigne.
She wondered how long he'd survive in the wilderness, living by his wits. Not very long, she suspected. He was thoroughly unprepared for anything beyond the leisured activities of his class-gambling, shooting, sleeping with other men's wives. Coddled from the cradle, waited on hand and foot, all the marquis understood was deference and acquiescence.
Neither of which she was willing to grant.
Let him work his charm on females without the means to make their own way in the world. She wasn't interested.
A few minutes later, she found Bertie and accepted his apologies for Archie's indisposition with grace, not overly sensitive about Beau's care so long as it was adequate. In any event, the horses at Sefton's were treated extremely well, although for the fees George charged, they should be. It was agreed-Eve would ride out for the afternoon gallops and after a short discussion of Beau's preference for a light hand on the reins, Eve took her leave.
She spent the remainder of the morning at her rented country house, writing letters home, answering her manager's queries with wires if necessary. The village had a telegraph at the train station and she was already well known there.
As an only child, she'd been schooled by private tutors; her father wanted nothing but the best for his darling, he'd always said. Which accounted for her sense of entitlement, perhaps. But when it came to business, she understood that only results mattered, not one's bank account. She'd seen many a millionaire lose a fortune in the volatile economic climate of the times; brains and a cool head were the most important requisites for success.
With her excellent tutors and her father's insistence that she accompany him on his daily business rounds, she'd attained an envied degree of competence. When she was very young, she'd sit on her father's desk and eat the peppermints he kept in a jar; as she grew older, he'd hand her small tasks that eventually led to larger and more complex projects. And when her mother had died in the flu epidemic the winter Eve turned fourteen, she and her father had become even closer. On her eighteenth birthday, the colonel had given her a half share of his holdings with the admonition to "Do him proud." And in terms of making money, she'd more than earned his praise. Her private life had been less conventional, and she'd always regretted not giving him a grandchild before he'd died. But he'd never criticized her personal choices or her way of life. "What the hell, darlin'," he'd always say, "as long as you're happy, I'm happy."
So thanks to her father, she knew mining, banking, and ranching from the ground up. Every aspect, from drilling and blasting the ore to shipping it to the smelters, was familiar to her, while her analytical mind had taken to finance like a duck to water. As for the ranch, their horse-breeding operation was the envy of every thoroughbred owner in America.
Now if only Beau showed up all that European bloodstock this summer, she'd be mighty pleased. Driven by the brash spirit of America or her father's more pithy, "Don't let anyone tell you quarterings matter, darlin'. Grit and nerve beat blue blood every time," she was looking forward to pitting her gutsy racer against whatever England and the Continent had to offer.
And Beau wasn't the only one who liked to win.
She did, too.
At noon, Eve was interrupted by her maid.
"Luncheon is ready. You'd best eat before it gets cold."
"In a minute, Jenny. I have to finish this telegram."
"Then I'll wait right here until you do, because knowing you, you'll forget to eat altogether if I don't remind you."
Jenny had been part of the Sweet household as long as Eve could remember and it was often unclear exactly who gave orders to whom.
Looking up, Eve took note of Jenny's set expression. "I'll hurry."
"We'll have the kitchen lad run the telegram to the station once you're done. Anyone I know?"
"I'm writing to Desmond at the mine. He's wondering whether to go ahead with the new housing for the miners. I'm giving him the go-ahead." Eve glanced up. "If that's all right with you."
"Amusing, I'm sure."
Eve grinned. "Just checking."
Jenny was only five years older than Eve. Orphaned after her entire family had died of diphtheria, she'd been taken in by the colonel as a companion for Eve. The two girls had shared the schoolroom when they were young, and in later years, Jenny had become personal maid and sounding board to the colonel's daughter. Given the opportunity to leave the Sweet household with a considerable dowry at the time of her marriage, Jenny had preferred staying. Her new husband, Henry, had became steward and general factotum to Eve, their positions unaltered by Eve's rather short-lived marriage.
"You should have asked me," Jenny had said at the demise of Eve's marriage, "and I would have told you not to marry him. Morgan Cain didn't like horses, you know."
"But he had such interesting amusements."
"No need to marry them for that."
"I shall remember your advice in future," Eve had said.
And she had.
Her amusements were quite separate from any thoughts of marriage now. Perhaps with the death of her father she had less need to consider marriage. Her parents had had a love match, while her relationship with Morgan had been less about love and more about enjoying herself. In fact, she'd probably married in order to save her father embarrassment. Cohabitation was difficult to carry off in a town where everyone knew everyone. With her father's feelings no longer an issue, she was not inclined to marry again. Now if she wished to indulge in sexual amusements, she did so with a certain degree of discretion. Experience bred caution, or perhaps no one had inspired her enough of late to rashly disregard the consequences.
Excerpted from NOT JUST FOR TONIGHT by SUSAN JOHNSON KATHERINE O'NEAL DIANE WHITESIDE Copyright © 2005 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
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