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Year:
2017
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Language:
english
ISBN 13:
9781101969359
Series:
The Delaneys of Killaroo
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Adelaide, the Enchantress is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

2017 Loveswept Ebook Edition

Copyright © 1987 by Kay Hooper

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

LOVESWEPT is a registered trademark and the LOVESWEPT colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

Originally published in paperback in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, in 1987.

Ebook ISBN 9781101969359

Cover design: Diane Luger

Cover photograph: Augustino/Shutterstock

randomhousebooks.com

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Contents


Cover

Title Page

Copyright

About the Delaney Dynasty…



Prologue



Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Epilogue



Dedication

By Kay Hooper

About the Author





About the Delaney Dynasty…


When William Delaney was born in 1855, men were men and the West was wild. There were Indian troubles for settlers, but not for the Delaneys; old Shamus had cannily invested one of his sons in a marriage to the daughter of an Apache chief a year or so before young William’s birth, which quieted things considerably.

Of course, William, like his uncles before him, gleefully borrowed the Indian custom of counting “coup” and on occasion rode pell-mell through peaceful Apache camps screeching madly and attempting to touch as many braves as possible before they angrily chased him back to Killara, the Delaney homestead.

If he had run true to form, old Shamus, never one to spare the rod, would have punished his grandson severely, but he didn’t. He’d learned it was useless in dealing with William. Trees were scarce in southern Arizona, and more than one eastern-made paddle had been worn out on Willia; m’s unrepentant bottom.

William’s father, Desmond, second of Shamus’s nine sons, was killed in the Civil War in 1862, leaving seven-year-old William in the care of his mother, Anne, his grandparents, and various uncles, aunts, and cousins. If he had lived, perhaps Desmond would have controlled his son, for the boy had worshipped him.

Of those left to guard him, only his grandfather had any sort of control over the boy, and that was little enough. Old Shamus, loving his grandchildren as he had his sons, certainly tried. Since William possessed the Delaney charm and was smart enough to turn it to good effect, even Shamus found himself easing up on the boy and remarking that his misdemeanors were products only of high spirits.

The Apaches, understandably annoyed, disagreed; good Irish whiskey was called for then to ease the pain of lacerated tempers.

But as William grew, it began to require more than a friendly drink to repair the consequences of his reckless actions. William rode wild horses, searched far and wide for wild women, and discovered both cards and drink a good ten years before he should have.

At the age of sixteen William had perfected the rather dangerous art of escaping out bedroom windows, enraged husbands and loaded guns one step behind him. He had, with forethought, trained his savage mustang to stand just so beneath those windows, and husbands in jealous pursuit found themselves choking on dust and listening to hearty laughter carried away by fleet hooves.

By the time he was eighteen William had searched out and conquered women within a two-hundred-mile radius of Killara. Indeed, betting in saloons held that a pair of his boots could be found under the bed of every woman under thirty except those William was kin to.

And since old Shamus was no fool, he was well aware of why his grandson often arrived home sketchily attired in only his trousers. Shamus could forgive the womanizing, merely remarking somewhat irritably that he could have raised all nine of his sons and shod them handsomely in the boots William had left behind him.

However, men were men then, and the West was still somewhat wild. And, inevitably, William was a bit lazy in leaving a warm bed one night. The jealous husband had burst in prepared, gun in hand and temper raging. William wasted no time with his pants, but grabbed his own gun instead, and when he left that window there was a badly wounded man behind him.

William might have stood his trial; he might even have been acquitted. But he was a gambler, and he knew the odds: at least half the men on any jury would be men he had wronged. So he climbed aboard his bad-tempered mustang and headed west.

He took with him little in the way of material things, confident of his luck, but he did “borrow” a single treasure from the Delaney family coffers. As treasures go, the necklace was worth little. It consisted of three silver medallions, each bearing a turquoise stone. Perhaps William was thinking of his grandfather’s lucky number; in any event, he took the necklace.

On the Barbary Coast he found men even more dangerous than those he had left behind him; though there were warm beds aplenty, there were also eager guns and short tempers. William, ever ready to conquer virgin territory, cocked his eye still farther west and boarded a ship.

He wound up, somewhat to his own surprise, in Australia, and liked it enough to remain for a while. He worked when he had to and gambled when he could, arriving at last on a sheep station—where he hired on happily after a glance at the boss’s very pretty daughter.

It was in 1877 when William went to work there, and he lost no time in leaving yet another pair of boots under yet another bed. But William had reckoned without Matthew Devlin, the quiet man whose only child was his daughter, Mary. William went to his wedding as lighthearted as always, unperturbed by the shotgun that had guided his steps to the altar.

William remained for a short time, long enough to tell his bride all about his family in Arizona, about Killara. Truly of Shamus’s blood, he wove a splendid story about the relatives half a world away, gifting them with even more wealth and power than what was actually theirs at the time. Then, being William, he cheerfully abandoned his bride and sailed for home, trusting of forgiveness behind him, welcome before him, and having no idea that he had left in Australia something more than a pair of boots and an old necklace.

William found, at Killara, that there was indeed welcome, and that past misdeeds, if not forgotten, were at least viewed as dim and unimportant. He returned to the bosom of his family and never thought to mention the small matter of a wife left behind in Australia’s outback.

Unfortunately, none of William’s adventures had taught him to curb his recklessness, and he lost no time in reminding people of why he had left Arizona years before. He went his charming way from bad to worse, until even his loving grandfather freely predicted that he would end by getting his neck stretched.

Which, regrettably, is exactly how things turned out.

Mary Delaney was not surprised by William’s abandonment; she had loved him and, perhaps remarkably, understood him. She would have as soon attempted to chain the wind as tie William to her side. And she was a strong woman, a proud woman. So she bore her son, Charles, and raised him on the station alone after her father died. She told him often the story of Killara and the Arizona Delaneys, that and a necklace being the only birthright William had left his son.

In his turn, Charles married and fathered a son, passing on the tales of Killara—which was, in reality, by that time, all that William had described and more.

As with many families, the Australian branch of the Delaney clan could boast at least one mystery, and William’s son, Charles, was responsible for theirs. At some point in his young life, he attempted to mine gems, and, having barely fathered his own son, he was murdered because of a fabulous gem it was believed he had found. His killers were never caught and the gem, if it existed, vanished.

By the time Spencer Delaney, William’s great-grandson, was born in 1935, Killara had become a legend; with news spreading worldwide overnight because of advanced technology, hard facts upheld the legend.

And, pride being a strong Delaney trait, Spencer did not turn to his wealthy American relations when he found himself in financial trouble. Instead, he sold off the larger part of the station to a neighboring station, requiring only that his family be given a two-month option to repurchase the land if it came up for resale.

Killaroo, as the station had been renamed by Mary, was small, and the sale of the land was only temporarily helpful to the family. Spencer, realizing too late what he had given up, worked his fingers to the bone to see his family prosper so the land could be restored to them. As the years passed, it became his obsession. He suffered two minor heart attacks and, ignoring warnings by his doctor that a third would likely kill him, continued to work and scheme to get his land back.

Since Delaneys tended to sire male children, it was somewhat surprising that Spencer had fathered three girls. And though Spencer may well have felt the lack of a son, he loved his girls and wanted the best for them. Sydney, Matilda, and Adelaide, however, wanted their father healthy and free from worry.

And so, when the land once belonging to them came up for sale, the girls resolved to raise the staggering price. They knew, of course, of their American cousins, but none of them even suggested that those strangers be applied to.

Each had a scheme. Each had a talent, or a means to make money quickly. And each was driven, as never before in her life, to attain a very specific goal. They were fighting for their birthright, but, even more, they were fighting for their father’s life.

They had two months. Sixty days to do the impossible. And if they knew it was impossible, the knowledge was unimportant to them. They were Delaneys, and it was bred into them to know that even the impossible road was traveled one step at a time.

And so they began.





Prologue


Oh, hell, I’ll have to break my promise.

It was an unhappy thought, and weighed heavily on Addie’s already low spirits. Her father had always said that the most dishonorable thing anyone could do was to break a promise, and now she would have to break her promise to him.

No more professional racing, he’d said, it was too dangerous. And she had promised. No more racing, except on Resolute.

But now she had to. And she thought more of the cruel demands she would be forced to place on Resolute than of the equally cruel demands on herself. She could race Resolute perhaps four times in two months—if he remained sound, and if the handicappers did not pile weight on him in their efforts to achieve fairness. She had no doubt he’d win, except perhaps for the Melbourne Cup, which was always uncertain.

Still, even if they won the Cup, it would not be enough. She’d have to race constantly herself, take every mount offered her and work to win every race; her percentage of the winnings would make up the difference. It had to. And when she thought of that, thought of race after race on good, bad, and indifferent horses, thought of crowds and reporters…

Addie gazed through the kitchen window, watching the lean middle-aged man working to repair the old tractor. There were, Addie thought painfully, too many lines of care on his face. There was too much strain, and in his eyes was too much despairing anxiety.

And as she looked out at her father now, courage and determination returned. Whatever it took, she would find in herself. Whatever was necessary, she would do. Even if it meant breaking a promise.

“So we’re agreed?” Sydney asked.

Addie looked at her sisters, seeing them as two parts of herself as well as separate beings. Sydney older, Manda younger; the one dark and controlled, the other bright and effervescent. Addie had always felt close to her sisters, but never as close as she did at this moment.

“Right. We’ve got to keep our individual goals in mind, but if one of us needs help, the other two will come running,” Manda said. “We’ve got to remember this is a joint project. We all must succeed.”

Addie nodded in agreement. “But what about Dad? It’s important we keep this a secret. There’s potential danger in all our plans, and we can’t worry him. You two have it a hell of a lot easier than I do. He’s bound to hear what I’m doing.” She almost shuddered, thinking about it. The eyes watching her. It wouldn’t bother her during a race, but afterward…Reporters and photographers and a kind of notoriety that made her extremely uncomfortable.

“Do the best you can,” Sydney said. “And if you need help, ring us.”

Addie looked at her older sister, the sister who’d gotten a large measure of the Italian blood they shared, and who was quiet and still and always reminded Addie of a madonna. All her passions were caged in outward serenity; and of course she was worried and anxious, but she’d never let it show. Not Sydney. Lovely, graceful Sydney, who could fly, Addie thought, if she’d only let herself.

Addie pulled her thoughts back to planning the next few weeks. “I’ll be on the move, so I’ll check in often. And since I’ll be closest to home, I’ll keep an eye on Dad.”

“Good,” Sydney said. “Be sure and let us know if anything changes with him.”

In the momentary silence Addie thought again of the coming weeks, and shivered. Each of them alone, fighting the clock and the odds. Could they do it?

Manda drew a deep, shaky breath. “Lord, I’m scared. What if we blow it?”

Addie looked at her in surprise. Manda—scared? Their quicksilver bird with her exotic plumage, always rushing to get somewhere because she’d never been there before?

Then Addie understood. Warm, generous Manda, who loved their father and who had realized, probably for the first time in her life, that an adventure could have an ending far worse than simple failure could ever be.

“I’m scared too.” Addie returned Manda’s quick, grateful smile, wondering if her younger sister knew just how strong she really was. Perhaps these next weeks would show her.

“We all are,” Sydney said. She reached for her sisters’ hands and clasped each one tightly. “But we won’t fail because we can’t.” She smiled with an effort. “This isn’t another one of Manda’s trips to the sea. This dream has to become a reality.”

Addie felt the tie between them that was more than touch, more than blood, and her own determination hardened.

They had this bond, and they each wanted something. Something desperately important to all of them. And Addie knew they would all push themselves to their limits to reach that goal.

And suddenly, Addie knew they’d do it. Whatever chances they took, whatever risks they ran, this time they would make it to the sea.





Chapter 1


He probably wouldn’t have noticed them, except for the koala. It wasn’t, after all, unusual to see a horse at a racetrack, or even a girl walking beside a horse. And it wasn’t that unusual to see a koala in Australia. But he’d never seen one with four leather gloves covering its paws and riding a horse.

He didn’t know much about koalas, but this one seemed a fair example of the species. It looked absurdly cuddly, with tufted ears and a round little body, button eyes, and a large black nose. It was the middle of the day, and the creature looked sleepy, but its little gloved paws were firmly anchored in the horse’s gray mane.

Shane Marston turned his astonished eyes from the koala to the horse. Technically a gray horse, the young stallion was actually pure white except for a gray mane and tail; he was long and lean, every clean line of him shouting of generations of racing blood. He walked quietly, obediently, beside the girl holding his lead rope. He wore no blanket or leg bandages, and seemed not to mind the koala clinging to his back.

The girl stopped just inside the wide barn hall and dropped the lead rope, and while the horse stood calmly she held out her arm toward the koala, calling, “Sebastian.”

The little creature reached a gloved paw toward her, not completely releasing the horse’s mane until he could grasp her arm. Then he left the horse in a smooth transfer to the girl’s back, his limbs firmly around her neck.

She picked up a brush and began grooming the stallion, apparently entirely comfortable with the koala on her back.

Shane stood very still, gazing at the girl and feeling the shock of her voice still echoing in his mind. It was the sweetest, most gentle voice he had ever heard, and it touched something inside him, something that had never been touched before. His throat felt tight and his heart pounded, and he was bewildered because suddenly he couldn’t breathe very well.

He realized it was odd for him to have reacted so strongly to a single word. He listened intently then so he could catch her softly murmured words to the horse, and every sound she uttered seemed to run along his nerve endings like the memory of a song heard once and never forgotten.

He backed off a little until he could no longer hear her, needing to come to terms with his own rioting emotions. But he could only gaze at her, stunned, unable to think at all.

She was not thin, but she was small and looked amazingly fragile. Her skin was very fair, almost translucent. The only color she could boast of was the vibrant red of her short hair; and though that hair was a badge of passion and temper, in her face was reflected only gentleness and calm.

She was not, he realized on some uncaring level of himself, a beautiful young woman. Her mouth was too wide for beauty, her eyes too large. Yet that tender mouth would always draw the gaze of a man, and those dark eyes would haunt his dreams.

“His name’s Resolute.”

Shane started at the sound of Tate Justin’s voice. He realized in an instant that the younger man had simply said the name of the Thoroughbred stallion, supposing Shane to be staring at the horse. But then, as he met those chilly gray eyes, he knew that Justin was fully aware of what had been holding his gaze.

Justin said nothing to confirm Shane’s speculation. He simply crossed his arms over his chest and went on in his cool, expressionless voice. “At all the tracks they’re starting to call him The Ghost. He just flits around the course and nothing can catch him. You’re out of luck, though; she won’t sell him.”

“She’s the owner, then. I wondered.” Shane kept his voice casual with an effort he hoped didn’t show.

The younger man chuckled almost soundlessly. “Resolute races in the names of her sisters, but that’s a technicality. She’s the owner, all right. Because of my father’s stupidity.”

Shane was again startled, and not a little uncomfortable. Since arriving in Australia nearly a week ago, he had come to regret that he’d met this young man in the States months before and accepted his invitation to come to Australia for a look at racing horseflesh down under. Shane had been inside their house ten minutes when he became aware of tensions between father and son.

And now he was more or less trapped, unwilling to offend a family that had been cordial to him, showing him the various racetracks and introducing him to other breeders, yet uncomfortable in their home; he would have much preferred a hotel.

Tate Justin demonstrated a willingness to talk freely and bitterly to him—in spite of Shane’s unwillingness to hear it—about his troubles. So Shane was hardly surprised when the younger man went on to explain his remark without being prompted.

“We bred that colt,” he said. “The sire and dam were both racers, but neither had ever won, or even placed. When Resolute was foaled, he looked like no racehorse you’ve ever seen. The ugliest—mottled gray-black and awkward as hell. And when he was two months old, he wasn’t any better.”

Shane dragged his gaze from the girl and focused it on the beautiful, graceful stallion. Quite a change in two or three years, he decided. Justin chuckled again softly, and Shane had the odd feeling that the younger man didn’t want the girl to know he was watching her and talking about her horse.

“Then the dam broke her leg,” Justin said, “and we had to put her down. Nobody liked the colt; as well as being ugly, he was a surly brute. Every trainer who looked at him swore he’d never be good for anything. My father,” he went on in a sour tone, “didn’t want to spend the money to raise him and find out for sure. Word had gotten around about his temperament so no one wanted to buy him. When my father ordered the colt destroyed, she was there, hanging around the stables as usual. She asked for the colt; my father signed him over to her.”

And now, Shane thought with an inner sigh, he’s not only a beautiful animal, but a winner. “Tough luck,” he sympathized mildly.

“Yeah. That’s horseracing—right?” He laughed, but the sound would never be mistaken for humor. He looked at the American. “You want to meet her?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but started walking forward.

Shane fell into step beside him. The short conversation had given him time to rein in his emotions and he was, in spite of the tension he sensed in Tate, eager to meet this girl with the soft, gentle voice and the fiery hair.

Justin approached her obliquely, avoiding the young stallion’s hindquarters. Resolute was first to react, turning his head and laying back his ears briefly. The girl, looking faintly surprised, turned her head also, and though her expression did not change, wariness flickered in the large dark eyes.

“Oh. Tate.”

“Addie.” Tate smiled rather sardonically. “A guest of ours wants to meet you; he’s an American horse breeder. Adelaide Delaney, Shane Marston.”

Shane, peculiarly sensitive to undercurrents, saw something flash between them, something genuinely humorous on Tate’s part and somewhat pained on hers. In that fleeting moment they might have been friends, sharing a silent joke. But it was gone quickly, leaving Tate’s manner chilly and hers almost imperceptibly guarded.

She turned to Shane, looking up at him. In an oddly childlike gesture she brushed her right hand down the side of her jeans before offering it to him. “Mr. Marston.”

Shane held the small hand, instinctively gentle, his nerve endings tingling while a faint shock registered at the back of his mind. Her name…Was it possible? No…half a world away…“A pleasure, Miss Delaney,” he said, releasing her hand when it occurred to him that he had held it too long.

“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Tate said, and though there was no particular inflection in his voice, Shane found himself sending the other man a hard look. Tate returned that look briefly, then walked away.

She gazed after him for a moment, then gave Shane an easy, friendly half smile. “You’re interested in Australian horses, Mr. Marston?”

Her lilting accent sounded twice as enchanting to him now that he heard her directing words to him. “Shane. And yes, I am.”

“Breeding stock, or racers?”

“Primarily breeding stock.” Shane reached out to pass a hand down Resolute’s sloping shoulders. “He’s a fine animal.”

“Yes, he is.” Her voice gentled even more with the words.

Shane chuckled suddenly and gestured to the koala asleep with his chin on her shoulder. “And unusual, since he allows the koala to ride him.”

“Sebastian’s the unusual one.” She reached up to trail a finger along the koala’s foreleg, and a tufted ear twitched sleepily. “He was orphaned young, and instead of climbing trees he took to people and horses. Some people, mind you, and some horses. He’s a bit temperamental—but then, so is Resolute.” She smiled. “I believe American racehorses sometimes choose odd stable companions?”

“They certainly do,” Shane said with considerable feeling. “We have a ten-year-old at stud, and believe it or not, that horse is absurdly attached to a moth-eaten cockatoo. He flies into a blind panic if he gets separated from it. Since the bird takes more careful handling than the stallion, we’ve run into problems more than once.”

“I can imagine!”

Shane looked down at her lustrous flame-red hair and felt his heart turn over. He was conscious of an abrupt sense of urgency, a fiery prodding along his nerve endings. It was fortunate they were interrupted then, because Shane had taken a half step toward her and wasn’t at all certain he could have controlled his impulse to embrace her.

“Addie!”

Without noticing Shane’s movement, Addie turned, a silent question lifting her brows.

A groom, visibly harassed, panted as he turned the corner and came into the hall. He was clearly relieved when he saw her. “Addie, Warlord’s cast his near fore, and he’s in the sixth. Can you—?”

“Sure. The truck’s just outside.”

“I’ll get him,” the groom said, his expression still hovering between relief and harassment.

To Shane, born and bred to the world of horses, the groom’s cryptic words made perfect sense. A horse called Warlord had lost his left front shoe and was due to run in the sixth race of the afternoon. What Shane realized only gradually, however, was that the tiny lady who was now leading her gray horse into a large stall was apparently a blacksmith.

“You shoe horses?” he managed to ask faintly as she came out of the stall and fastened the bottom half of the Dutch door.

With an economical movement she shifted the koala from her back to the upright post above the door hinges. Sebastian, his round little bottom firmly on the top of the door, clutched the post and never opened his eyes.

Addie smiled at Shane as she started toward the hall opening and nodded. “I shoe horses. Just racehorses now, although I’ve specialized only since I got Resolute.”

“But…” Shane followed her, disturbed.

Out in the sunlight she walked a few paces to where a dusty jeep was parked, and let down the tailgate to reveal a jumble of tools, boxes of horseshoes, and a small propane forge. Before Shane could offer to help, she reached in and drew out a sturdy iron tripod, then set a heavy anvil atop it.

“You’re stronger than you look,” he said in surprise.

Another flickering smile, unoffended, somewhat wryly amused. “I’ve had years of experience,” she told him. She turned her gaze back to the interior of the jeep and frowned faintly. “His near fore—that’s the narrow one. I’ll have to shape the shoe.”

He watched her rummage in a box of shoes until she came up with several of slightly varying sizes, all of which she absently hung over the point of the anvil. Then she laid out a selection of tools on the tailgate.

The sounds of cursing reached them before anything else, cursing and snorting and the thuds of angry hooves. They both turned to watch, and Shane felt his uneasiness return full force when he saw what Addie would have to deal with.

It was a big bay horse, a stallion with wild eyes and a clearly evil temper. He was apparently engaged in a game of crack the whip with his hapless groom, who was grimly hanging on to the lead rope, acting as the tail of the whip. The small groom was off his feet more often than on, constantly forced to dodge hooves and teeth.

“He’ll kill you!” Shane said in horror, far too aware of just what an enraged stallion could do.

“No. Horses like me,” she said simply, and went to meet them.

Shane didn’t hear what she said over the other sounds, but the horse clearly heard her voice. And in a flashing instant a four-legged demon became a model of gentle affection. He stopped swinging his head like an angry bull; his ears shot forward; his hooves stopped their rat-a-tat of fury. Addie took the lead rope from the panting groom and, turning, led the stallion over to her jeep.

She was speaking to him casually, and patted his shoulder as she let the lead rope drop to the ground. Except for turning his head to watch her every movement, the horse stood perfectly still.

Shane had drawn off to the side, watching in amazement, and the groom joined him there. Wiping a sweating brow, the middle-aged man grinned.

“Addie’s worth twice her weight in gold around these hellions,” he said admiringly. “She’s like magic, she is. Old Warlord there, he hates being shod. Until Addie came along, we had to get the vet over to sedate him. And she’s like that with all horses. They’ll run for her too. I reckon they’d bust a gut for her.”

“Run for her?” Shane felt suddenly cold, dread tightening his heart. “You don’t mean she’s a jockey?”

Happily unaware of having dealt a blow, the groom nodded, watching his temperamental charge hold his front leg up sweetly for Addie to work on. “That she is. She’s ridden off and on for a while now. Just turned pro a few weeks ago. Most days she rides in every race.”

“And today?” Shane was amazed at the calm sound of his own voice.

“The third and the fifth, I think.” He glanced at his watch, frowning briefly. “She’ll have to shake a leg.”

The sun was quite warm on Shane’s head, but he felt cold. He watched while Addie expertly fitted a shoe to the stallion’s hoof and nailed it in place. He was vaguely aware of the sounds all around him: the distant rhythm of hoofbeats as horses were exercised; the muted shouts of grooms and trainers.

But the image in his mind was of a laughing blond young man of eighteen as he’d been before his last race. It was chased by another image, one that had haunted Shane for years, of a nightmare tangle of horses and jockeys, of Thoroughbred hooves armed with sharp racing shoes scrambling for footing on the sand…of a small, brightly colored figure left lying on the track, his crash helmet split open and blood staining blond hair red….

“Finished, Pat.” Addie straightened and held out the lead rope to the groom. Warlord snapped at the groom and began to prance as he was led away, but Addie didn’t seem to notice the change in the horse once he was turned over to someone else.

She put away her tools, again lifting the heavy anvil easily into the jeep and closing the tailgate. When she reached Shane’s side, she frowned a little and touched his arm in a seemingly instinctive gesture. “Are you all right?”

He looked down at her, feeling her touch clear through to his bones. “Yes. I suppose I haven’t recovered from jet lag yet, that’s all.”

The dark eyes searched his briefly, but she nodded and dropped her hand. “It was nice meeting you—” she began.

Shane smiled broadly. “Oh, I’ll be around for a while,” he said. “In Australia—and on the tracks. You’re riding this afternoon?”

Addie nodded. “Yes, and tomorrow.” She didn’t seem surprised that he knew she rode. “Then up to Sydney with Resolute for the weekend races.”

Shane bit back what he wanted to say. “I see. Well, I believe I’ll watch you ride today.” He grinned. “Should I bet on you?”

Seriously, she said, “I intend to win.”

“Then I’ll bet my kingdom.”

She laughed a little, the sound once again running along Shane’s nerve endings like a haunting song, then waved casually and walked away. He stood stock still for several minutes, gazing after her. Suddenly aware of the increasing noise that heralded the beginning of the afternoon races, he headed toward the track.

—

As was her habit, Addie checked on the conditions of her two rides for the afternoon, talking to the grooms and finding that both young stallions were fit and ready.

Then she went to dress for her first race. Everything was laid out for her in the small room provided for the very few female jockeys, which was divided by a thin partition from the larger room the male jockeys used.

Addie’s valet, Storm, was there, of course, her blond hair in its usual disarray, but the boots she was polishing carefully were, like the rest of Addie’s things, immaculate. She looked up, her round blue eyes appearing startled as always.

“They’ve put the heavy weight on Raider again,” she said in her rather deep voice, sounding depressed. “You’ll have to carry lead even with the big saddle.”

“Yes, I know.” Addie stripped rapidly and began getting into her silks. “I couldn’t afford to gain with the Cup in a few weeks, so don’t say it. Raider doesn’t mind the dead weight, and Resolute runs better when I’m light.”

“When did you eat today?” Storm demanded, undeterred, as always, by Addie’s faintly irritated glance.

“This morning.”

“You did not. I saw you working at dawn by the truck. You’d think,” she added rather coldly, “that the trainers would want to save you for races instead of making you shoe their horses all day.”

“They don’t make me do anything,” Addie said, sitting on a bench and reaching for her boots. “And I need the money, so shut up.”

“You can’t spend a penny if you work yourself to death,” Storm reminded her.

Refusing to respond to that, Addie stamped her small feet into the boots and stood again to pull on her helmet. “Do me a favor, will you, Storm? Check and make sure Bevan keeps an eye on Resolute during the races.”

“He will without my asking.”

“I know.” Addie accepted the small racing saddle from her valet, her expression abstracted. “I know he will. But check anyway, will you?”

“Sure.” As Addie started for the door, Storm called, “Who was that lovely man you were talking to a little while ago?”

“An American breeder,” Addie answered over her shoulder. “Shane Marston. Tate introduced him.”

Storm whistled softly. “He’s trying to get round you that way now?”

“Oh, of course not. Tate knows I won’t sell Resolute.” Addie paused at the door for a moment, thinking that Tate also knew just how desperate for money she was. She shrugged the thought away and waved at Storm, heading out for the weighing area.

She had weighed in, with lead in the pockets of her saddle for the extra weight her horse was required to carry, and was heading for the saddling paddock when he fell into step beside her.

“Hello. Should I still bet my kingdom?”

Addie looked up into green eyes, wishing that her heart didn’t jump so when he spoke to her—at least not when her mind needed to be on the race. “You saw the handicap, I take it?”

“I’ll say.” Shane whistled softly. “Raider’s carrying more weight than the rest by nearly ten pounds. I noticed he’s still the favorite, though.”

“He doesn’t mind weight.” Addie paused, keeping her eyes on the long-legged chestnut being led around the paddock by his groom. “And he likes the distance.”

“Then I’ll bet on you.”

Addie smiled up at him and went over to her mount, firmly shutting the American from her thoughts and concentrating on the race she was about to run. She listened to the trainer tell her to keep the horse out in front, nodding because they both agreed that Raider liked it in front.

When the call came, she was tossed up into the saddle, and she tucked her whip under her arm while she fastened her chin strap. Her eyes flitted over the crowd of spectators watching the paddocks, and she felt herself smile when Shane sent her a small salute.

Then she put him out of her mind. Again.

The race went pretty much as Addie had expected. Raider was pulling like a train in his eagerness to run, out in front in a flash and determined to stay there. He was challenged twice during the relatively short race, both times pouring on speed to keep himself in the lead. Addie, mindful of the weight her horse carried, took care that they didn’t finish too far ahead of the field: The larger the margin of his win, the more weight the handicappers would assign him for his next race.

Raider won by half a length.

The big chestnut pranced happily to the winner’s enclosure, with applause and cheers surrounding him, but stood quietly enough for Addie to get the saddle off him. She weighed out, and the results were quickly official, their time announced to more cheers.

She spoke briefly to the trainer and owner, managing to avoid the few photographers snapping pictures. She knew it was a forlorn hope that news of her consistent wins wouldn’t reach Killaroo, but she was nonetheless determined to avoid publicity as much as possible.

Just four more weeks…

She returned to the changing room, exchanging the blue and yellow silks for the gold and red colors of her second mount. Storm helped her to change in silence after brief congratulations on the win, and after her offer of finding a snack for Addie was calmly refused.

Then to the saddling paddock again with her lighter saddle and no lead in the pockets; this horse was one with no wins in his short career, and so the handicappers had assigned him no extra weight. She listened to the trainer tell her to do her best, his tone depressed, then mounted up and headed out onto the track.

Addie knew well that she had no business in carrying on two very strenuous careers at the same time. It took a surprising amount of physical stamina to ride a racehorse, and she knew she was asking for trouble in not saving her strength for racing.

The worst days were those on which she rode in every race, and during the past few weeks she had grimly learned just what complete physical exhaustion felt like. But she knew her own limitations, knew that whatever it took she would find in herself. Somehow.

The horse she rode in this race, improbably named Catch Me If You Can, was a notorious lagger, unwilling to push himself even to stay with the field. Addie concentrated even before the start, trying to connect with the young stallion’s mind and literally give him the will to win.

Without really thinking about it, she knew that horses were telepathic, knew that many caught the will to win from the small riders on their backs. She could feel the resistance in this young horse’s mind, his lazy disinclination to run.

Unfortunately for Catch Me If You Can, Addie had more than enough will for both of them. She’d never ridden him before, but that didn’t matter. From the instant the horses leaped to the start, she was pushing him fiercely, her mind commanding him, her entire body working to urge him to run.

He was dead last at the start, a bit awkward and uncertain because he wasn’t being allowed to run as he usually did. But he couldn’t ignore this rider, this small being on his back. Within ten strides he was running fully for the first time in his life, ears flat to his head, neck stretched, long legs working more smoothly. He moved up through the field, passing the other horses slowly but steadily. And when they flashed across the finish line, the lazy stallion had a nose out in front.

Addie felt her own strength drain in a sudden rush as she slowed the horse. She felt the tremor of muscles pushed too far and breath that was a harsh rasp in her throat. But she was pleased with the win, and happy for a young horse who was, with some surprise, conscious of applause for the first time; he’d run better next time out, she knew, because of it.

Another of the horses cantered past Addie as she headed for the winner’s enclosure, and the jockey waved his whip at her in a mock threat. He also called out a somewhat unflattering remark on her parentage in a cheerful voice.

Addie grinned at him and shrugged, knowing he had been the favorite, but also aware that the other jockeys regarded her with respect for her skill. And no one could win all the time.

She went through the routine of unsaddling, weighing out, and speaking to a delighted owner and a somewhat stunned trainer. She was heartily begged to ride the horse in the future, and accepted a ride two weeks away without further committing herself.

Tiredly, she headed back for the changing room. She showered and changed into jeans and a light blouse, absently promised Storm she’d eat something, then left the valet to deal with the equipment and clothing.

Shane was outside, waiting for her.

“I won some money,” he said lightly, smiling at her. “And I was hoping you’d go out with me somewhere to celebrate the wins.”

“I’d like that.” Addie was a little surprised by her instant acceptance, and frowned briefly. “Let me check on Resolute first, all right?”

“Certainly.” He fell into step beside her as they headed for the barns. “You threw that second horse over the finish line,” he added casually.

“He didn’t want to run at first.” She was noncommittal. “But he has the ability; he just needed shaking up a bit.”

“Come to the States and ride our horses,” Shane invited her in a light tone. “Half our stable needs shaking up.”

Addie laughed, but shook her head, and Shane looked down at her in concern. She was tired, he knew, and he could feel her frailty in spite of her smile and the obvious physical strength she had shown earlier; she had used that strength unstintingly in driving that last horse to win, and it had taken a great deal out of her.

“Why do you ride?” It was an abrupt question.

She glanced up at him as they turned into the hall of the barn where Resolute was stabled. After a moment she answered briefly, “Because I can.”

Shane had no chance to probe that somewhat inadequate response, since they reached her horse’s stall then. A short, still powerful elderly man was standing before the stall, his leathery brown face seamed by time and currently wearing a frown. He was dressed somewhat roughly and held an apple in his hand.

“How is he, Bevan?” Addie asked as they reached him.

The man started in surprise and looked at them quickly, his frown vanishing. “He’s fine, Miss Addie.”

Addie clearly heard the same constraint in his voice that Shane did, for she looked at him sharply. But she said only, “Mr. Marston, Bevan.”

“Sir.”

Shane nodded a greeting, listening as Addie explained that Bevan was a retired trainer who had helped her to raise and train Resolute. She checked her horse and Sebastian, giving both a pat before turning back to the trainer. It occurred to Shane that Bevan seemed uncomfortable, even uneasy, but it was hardly his place to question the man.

It was Addie’s place, and she did so. “Bevan, what is it? You’re upset about something.”

The trainer hesitated for an instant, then said in a colorless voice, “There was a bloke standing here when I came, holding this apple out to Resolute. He dropped it and ran when he saw me.”

Addie reached out to take the fruit, turning it in her hands. Then she caught her breath sharply. “You didn’t know him, Bevan?”

“No, miss.”

“All right, then.” Her soft voice was as colorless as his. “If you can stay tonight, Bevan—”

“Of course I can, Miss Addie.”

“Right.” She nodded slowly, still gazing down at the apple. “I’ll be here early in the morning. I’ve left food for Sebastian with Resolute’s grain. And, Bevan, open a new sack of grain for the evening feed, will you, please?”

“Yes, miss.”

Addie turned away abruptly, and Shane, silent throughout the exchange, fell into step. “What’s wrong with the apple?” he asked quietly as they came out into the late afternoon sunlight.

She hesitated, then handed it to him without a glance. And Shane, too, caught his breath when he saw what was almost completely hidden in the sweet fruit.

“A razor blade!” He looked swiftly at her, but Addie showed no expression. “My God, that’s so brutal! We’ve had things like this happen in the States, though not, to my knowledge, involving horses.” Then he stopped and remembered what she’d said about the feed. “You—you don’t believe it was just a vicious trick, with Resolute chosen randomly, do you?”

Addie paused by her jeep, looking at it blindly. “Let’s just say I believe in being careful.”

“You should report this.”

“No.” Her voice was unexpectedly stiff. “No, I don’t want it reported. I’ll take precautions—and that will put an end to it. Probably just some sadistic kid with lousy taste in jokes.” She took the apple from Shane, swiftly picked the wicked blade from it, and tossed the apple into a nearby trash basket. The razor went into a small box of other sharp tools in her vehicle.

Shane, no fool, knew when he was being warned off a subject. He accepted the warning, for the moment, at least. “Well, it’s your horse,” he said easily. “Now, where would you like to have dinner?”

Addie started a little. “Dinner? Oh, wherever you like. Somewhere casual, please; I travel light on the circuit, so I never pack dressy things.”

“Fine. We can go in my rental car, and I’ll take you home afterward.”

“I’m staying in a hotel.” All her attention seemed to have returned to him. “Home is Killaroo Station in New South Wales.” She hesitated. “I’ll need my jeep in the morning—”

“I’d be glad to pick you up and bring you to the track.” Shane thought briefly of Tate’s expression when he had explained between the afternoon races that he was staying in Melbourne tonight and would find a hotel room; the younger man’s response had roused in Shane an urge to knock that chilly, knowing smile down his throat. He pushed the thought away. “In fact, I’ll check with your hotel for a room myself, since I’m also staying in Melbourne tonight.”

“I’ll need to be here at dawn,” she warned.

“I’m horse-people too, remember? I haven’t slept past dawn in thirty years.”

“All right then, and thanks.”

“My pleasure.” He watched her lock up the jeep and pocket her keys, then took her arm courteously as they headed toward the parking area near the stables.

Shane didn’t try to fool himself into believing that manners had compelled him to take her arm; he was, in fact, very well mannered. That had little to do with it, however. He had taken her arm because he knew he’d go out of his mind if he couldn’t touch her even in a polite and casual way. And though it might have seemed just that outwardly, he was very conscious that there was nothing casual in his reaction to the touch.

He felt a sizzling jolt when he touched her, his breath catching oddly and his head becoming curiously light. The strength of his own feelings disturbed him, not in the least because she seemed almost too frail to withstand the powerful force of such vital desire. And it did no good at all to remind himself that she was quite obviously a strong woman; her soft voice, small size, her shimmering halo of silky red hair, and magical gift with animals made her appear ethereal, and all his male instincts urged him to believe in frailty rather than strength.

Shane had always taken his attraction to women lightly in the past; he enjoyed their company, whether casual or intimate. He had a great many female friends, and the lovers in his past tended to remain firm friends after affairs had ended. Though in a position of comfortable wealth and gifted with blond hair and green eyes that caused the American tabloids to persist in referring to him as “the sleekest, sexiest Thoroughbred in racing circles,” Shane had never cared much for casual sex.

Not since his experimental teens had he taken a woman to bed without first having genuinely liked her—and if those invited declined, they never lost Shane as a friend.

What he had seen and heard of Addie, he certainly liked. He liked the frank gaze of her dark eyes, her quick smile and fluid grace. Her voice held a strange power to move him; and her gift with animals and—apparently—people fascinated him.

Yet, for all that, he knew almost nothing about her. Nothing to explain why his very bones seemed to dissolve when she looked at him or spoke to him. Nothing to explain the rabid fear he only just had managed to control while watching her race. Nothing to explain this urgent, driving need to touch her.

Shane knew what desire felt like, and he had even known the feeling to occur spontaneously when first meeting a woman—but that was like comparing the rumble of thunder to the violence of a hurricane.

You’ll frighten her to death, he told himself fiercely. If he let go. If he gave in to desires urging him to tumble them both into the nearest bed and violently explore these feelings he had never felt before…

She was too gentle and frail, he told himself, to respond to that kind of savagery. Too magically ethereal to want anything but tenderness and gentleness.

Shane knew dimly that he was already placing her on a pedestal, already setting her like some Greek goddess on an Olympus where an earthly hand could never mark her.

And he hardly heard the inner voice reminding him that the ancient gods and goddesses, for all their divinity, had been remarkably human at heart and quite definitely earthy in their passions.

Beneath the magic.





Chapter 2


For the first hour after leaving Flemington track, Addie gave Shane no reason to doubt his curiously stubborn belief in her frailty. She was quiet, saying little; she was not abstracted, yet at the same time she seemed as if a part of her were somewhere else.

She talked to him casually and easily, asking politely if he had seen this and that in Melbourne and offering a few opinions as to where to go for the best food.

For his part, Shane damped down his own powerful urges, listening to her voice more than to her words and watching her whenever possible. He also watched, as they entered a small and quiet restaurant, how other people reacted to Addie. The restaurant was one she had visited only a few times before, she had said, and yet the waiters seemed to hover over her anxiously and there had been an odd momentary silence, almost a catch of breath, as they had made their way to the table.

Addie didn’t seem to notice. But she noticed something else.

“You’re very quiet,” she said, smiling. “Is it the company, or jet lag?”

“Definitely not the company.” He tried to shake off the spell of her apparently unconscious sorcery. “How many races for you tomorrow?” he asked almost at random, still coping with his own conflicting impulses.

“Six.”

He felt his heart stop. “Six.” The word came out flat and toneless, and he cleared his throat. “You’ll have an exhausting day, then.”

Addie’s dark eyes studied him and she frowned. “You don’t approve of female jockeys?”

Shane forced a smile. “If I answered, I’d be saying I had a right to approve or disapprove—which I haven’t. No, it isn’t that. It’s just…someone very close to me was killed years ago in a race.”

“I’m sorry, Shane.” She didn’t seem aware of using his first name; her frown lingered. “You’re still in racing. Still involved with the sport.”

He knew what she was asking, and toyed briefly with the impulse to say he feared for any jockey. But that wouldn’t have been the truth. Jockeys, on the whole, accepted their risks: what Shane feared was that anyone he cared about should accept those risks.

He waited until their food was placed before them, then smiled at her ruefully. “Yes. And the nightmares stopped years ago; I can watch most races without a tremor. Unless I’m close to one of the jockeys. Or want to be.”

Watching her intently for a reaction to that, Shane could read nothing from her faint smile. But he was startled by her blunt question—blunt, that is, in the context of his own thoughts about her frailty.

“Are you looking for a vacation fling? No. I forgot. It isn’t a vacation for you, is it?”

He blinked. “No. No vacation. And I’m not looking for a fling. I just…” Want to take you to bed, dammit!

Addie was a little surprised by how startled he seemed to be and wondered if he thought she was too forthright. Unaware of other people’s reaction to her, she didn’t consider that Shane had been led somewhat astray by the very ancient male instincts to protect a seemingly delicate flower.

She debated briefly, too honest with herself to doubt she was tremendously attracted to this green-eyed man. Time was against her; she had so very much to accomplish in these next weeks, and that would allow little time for anything else.

In a careful tone she said, “I’d like very much to go on seeing you, Shane. But I have to say I’ll be rather occupied during the next few weeks. Until the Melbourne Cup. But if we’re at the same tracks and races—”

“We can spend some time together?” He smiled quickly. “I’ll make sure we are. When are you going to Sydney?”

“I’ll start day after tomorrow.” She was relieved, and silently ordered herself to guard her tongue in the future. No more blunt questions or comments; he obviously didn’t care for them, and until they knew each other better…“By rail—it’s faster, and Resolute will have time to settle down before the race on Saturday.”

“I haven’t seen the Sydney races yet,” Shane murmured. “Would you object if I came along?”

“Of course not. Are you—” She frowned faintly. “Are you staying with the Justins?”

“I have been.” He watched her, wondering about her relationship with Tate. On the surface it seemed hostile on his part and wary on hers—and yet there had been that momentary sharing of some lighter, more friendly emotion. “I believe I’ll be following the races now, though, so I’ll probably change over to hotels.” Rather abruptly, he added, “Tate wants Resolute, I gather.”

They had been eating as they talked, and Addie took time to sip her wine before replying. “Yes, he does.”

“What else does he want?” It was a shot drawn almost at random with nothing but his own vague instincts to guide his aim, but Shane saw at once that he had scored a direct hit.

Addie looked across the table at him, her eyes flickering with surprise and a fleeting unhappiness. “He’ll hate that,” she murmured. “Hate that you saw it.”

Shane felt something in him tighten. “I see. Then he is in love with you.”

She stirred a bit and sighed. “Maybe. I don’t know. Whatever he feels, he hates it.”

He drew a silent breath and braced himself. “Hates it because you don’t feel the same?”

“I can’t help it.” She seemed to be speaking to herself. “I’ve known him all my life. But he doesn’t stir my blood.” Abruptly, she flushed and looked down at her plate.

Shane was so relieved he nearly groaned, but a part of him was also startled again. Her explanation for not returning Tate’s feelings was clear enough—but definitely sensual in the choice of words. And she was obviously embarrassed by it.

He kept his tone casual. “No, you can’t help that.”

She cleared her throat, looking adorably confused from Shane’s viewpoint and feeling vastly annoyed with her unwary tongue. “Well, anyway, it makes things uncomfortable.”

“I imagine so.” He changed the subject smoothly, asking about forthcoming races, and the talk turned casual until Addie pushed her plate to one side. Shane, watching her more carefully than she knew, said immediately, “You can order something else if you don’t care for that dish.”

Addie shook her head and smiled. “The food’s fine. I’m watching my weight. An extra pound can make a length’s difference at the finish, you know.”

“But you hardly ate anything at all,” he protested, too worried about her not to show it.

“I’m not hungry, really.”

“Liar,” he chided dryly, and his heart stopped again when she grinned suddenly.

“All right, I’ll admit it! I am hungry. I’m always hungry. Most jockeys are. But I have to keep my weight down at least until the Cup.”

“With all the work you do—”

“Shane.”

He backed off somewhat hastily. “All right, all right. But just remember, you need your strength.”

“I’ll remember,” she said serenely.

And the conversation turned casual again.

—

Shane got a room at Addie’s hotel, a small and inexpensive one but quite comfortable. From long habit he carried an overnight bag in any car he drove; it was packed with the essentials for an unexpected overnight stay. He had carried it in with him when they arrived.

He left Addie at her door fairly early, reluctant to part company but also worried by the faint weariness he could see in the darkness of her eyes. They had agreed to meet for breakfast at the crack of dawn—the meal being Shane’s innocent suggestion and her acceptance of it expressed in a tone that fully understood his motives.

Shane confined his instincts tightly and parted from her with no more than a squeeze of her hand. And he would have been surprised again if he had lingered outside her door for a few moments.

Because he would have heard a beautifully soft and enchanting voice swearing with some feeling and with the colorful creativity of long practice.

—

Addie got ready for bed, frowning a little, torn between conflicting worries. She was worried that she had a faceless enemy somewhere with a penchant for putting razor blades in horses’ snacks, and she was worried by the presence of a blond, green-eyed American.

To cope with the first, she could only be on guard, wary. To cope with the second…well, the same really. Yet not the same. If only he had come into her life a few weeks later, she thought futilely, she could have followed her instincts and abandoned herself to personal concerns. Now there were races to be run and won, that awful deadline hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles.

And Shane Marston promised to be a distraction.

Addie turned out her light and pushed Shane firmly to the back of her mind. But she was unnerved to wake once in the night with the distinct feeling that he had entered her dreams with a lazy half smile and green eyes dark with desire….

—

Shane dropped Addie off at the track very early the next morning, but turned back toward Melbourne himself after assuring her that he’d be present to watch her race in the afternoon. As he drove he tried and failed to forget Addie’s face across the breakfast table.

She glowed in the morning, he thought. Her eyes were vividly alive and bright, and her short, gamin-cut red hair seemed a living thing itself, each strand burnished with a light that came from within.

He didn’t have the faintest idea what he’d eaten.

He hoped his sleepless night hadn’t shown on his face. He wasn’t accustomed to losing sleep. He was also—although he was rather startled to realize it—not accustomed to waiting for what he wanted. Had he ever hesitated to reach out for someone or something because of a fear it would flit away or turn out to not be real? No. He had never considered himself a vain man, but he was troubled now to realize just how easy everything in his life had been. In his adult life he had never been rejected by a woman; probably, he thought, because he had always made certain of interest on the woman’s part before revealing his own.

He’d never had to deal with this impatience, this urge to charge blindly forward without counting the possible cost to his pride. It was…unnerving.

He pushed the problem to the back of his mind and drove into the city. It was still early when he chartered a small plane to fly him into New South Wales and to the Justin family station. The family had two planes and Tate was a pilot, but Shane decided not to make use of their planes even though he’d been invited to. It was nearly five hundred miles to the station, and he meant to get there, take formal leave of the family, and return to Melbourne in time to see Addie race.

Tate was preparing his own plane to leave for Melbourne when Shane’s landed, and the younger man left his work to meet his guest. He didn’t seem surprised when Shane explained that he’d be around the Melbourne tracks so much that a hotel was a more practical place to stay.

Knowing what he did, Shane felt even more uncomfortable in Tate’s presence now, especially since there was hostility radiating from him.

“Say hello to Addie for me,” Tate said softly when Shane had started toward the big house.

Shane stopped, turned back. He kept his face expressionless with an effort, looking at Tate as he stood with his hands in his pockets and a faint smile on his face.

“I will.”

“She hates her name,” Tate said abruptly. “Adelaide. It means ‘of noble rank.’ Half the people who know her know only the short version.”

Shane understood, then, the fleeting expressions he’d seen when Tate had introduced her: Tate’s amusement at the hated name, and Addie’s rueful annoyance. He nodded, silent, only half aware that something that might have been compassion had crept into his own expression. It was painfully obvious to Shane that this man was in love with Addie—and hated himself for it.

And Tate saw. His facial muscles tightened, his gray eyes grew bleak. Then he wheeled and strode to his plane, his back stiff.

Shane swore softly and went on to the house. He couldn’t help wondering if some other man on some other day would see the same bleakness in his face…and for the same reason.

The house was quiet, and he went up to pack his things without encountering anyone. But when he came down, Marshall Justin was walking out of his study.

“Leaving us?”

While Shane explained, he considered Tate’s father. Not quite as tall as his son, he was silver-haired and blue-eyed. Stocky and sun-browned, he had a quietly cheerful manner that usually hid a somewhat explosive temper. He was proud of his racing horses, and his ambition was to win the Melbourne Cup; he had a young horse entered for the race, and only Resolute, Shane had heard, posed a threat to the stallion.

Justin accepted Shane’s explanation and thanks, politely walking him back out to his plane. Tate was gone, and they stood on the runway talking for a few moments. A little curious, Shane mentioned Resolute.

“Stupid of me to let the animal go,” Marshall Justin said, “but there’s no remedy at this point. Addie’s done a fine job with him, her and that old trainer she found.”

“I’ve heard he’ll win the Cup,” Shane ventured.

The older man smiled. “The race isn’t over till it’s over, you know. And I think Nightshade will give him a race.” Nightshade was his hopeful contender. He smiled more widely. “We’ll see, Shane. We’ll see.” Then he waved and turned away, adding that he’d doubtless see Shane at the track.

The flight to Melbourne was uneventful, and Shane took his luggage to the hotel before heading back to Flemington. It was a little before noon when he made his way to the stables, looking for Addie. He found Resolute peacefully munching hay in his stable, with Sebastian parked on the Dutch door again. The koala opened an eye and peered at him somewhat balefully, then closed it and seemed to go to sleep again.

Grinning a little, Shane began wandering around the area, confident that Addie was somewhere near. He heard her before he saw her, and what he heard stopped him in his tracks with a definite jolt.

In her soft and enchanting voice, Addie was delivering a definitely bawdy invitation for some unseen person to either bet or fold—but the words chosen were indecorous to the point of vulgarity. A chorus of male laughter followed, then a single voice protested against her impatience in equally earthy terms.

Addie then made a somewhat pointed reference to ancestors obviously lacking in courage. Except that she didn’t say courage. She used a term Shane was quite familiar with, since he’d grown up around stables.

It occurred to him then that the lady had spent some time around stables herself.

Shane peered around the feed room door, finding a small group of men leaning against feed sacks with playing cards thrown down before them. Addie sat cross-legged, holding her cards and gazing expectantly at the one man still holding his. A small pile of money lay on the floor between them.

She looked at the door briefly, said, “Hello, Shane,” and returned her gaze to her opponent. The other men glanced up, nodded in a friendly manner, and watched Pat—Shane recognized the groom from the day before—try to decide if Addie was bluffing.

“Oh, hell,” he said finally, flinging his cards facedown.

Addie grinned and gently waved two sixes at him. “I was bluffing.”

He called her a rude name as she raked in the money, and Addie cheerfully returned the favor.

Involuntarily, Shane said, “I didn’t know you could swear,” and blinked in surprise when the men obviously found this hilarious.

Addie got up gracefully, stuffing money into the pockets of her jeans, and came toward him looking surprised. “Whyever not?”

Shane looked at the laughing men and then at her, sighing finally. “I can’t imagine. Your voice, maybe.”

The men were leaving the feed room, and one of them responded before she could. “Sounds like peaches and cream, don’t she?” He was still laughing. “Just don’t play poker with her, lad. And don’t get her mad at you; you’ll have the hide flayed off you and you’ll never hear the lash!”

“He’s exaggerating,” Addie offered, looking after them and then at Shane.

After a moment he said carefully, “You look and sound as if a harsh word would either scare you to death or break you.”

“Break me?” Startled, she laughed. “Shane, I grew up with two sisters on a sheep station, and I’ve been around stables for years.” Then she looked a little uncertain. “But if it bothers you—”

“No.” He smiled slowly. “It’s just unexpected, that’s all. Don’t, for heaven’s sake, guard your tongue around me.” His smile became a grin. “It’s worth the shock to hear that magic voice of yours cursing like a sailor.”

“Oh.” Addie would have asked him what he meant by calling her voice magic, but a glance at her watch surprised her. “Oh, damn, I’ve got to—Shane, I have to try on a new pair of silks and Bevan isn’t here to watch Resolute. Could you stay near his stable until I can get back?”

“Sure. Go ahead.”

“It’ll take just a few minutes….” The last words were left hanging in the air as Addie raced away toward the changing room.

Shane’s first thoughts were somewhat occupied with this new vision of Addie. In his experience, no one who was frail of spirit found it necessary—or easy—to cheerfully spit out earthy curses. And he already knew she was physically stronger than she looked or had any right to be.

He wondered then at the power of her unconscious sorcery. She looked frail and she sounded magically gentle, her voice taming the savagery in animals. But she used a hammer in her work, bending metal to her will, and she rode half a ton of wired Thoroughbred at upward of thirty miles an hour…and there was that hair. That passionate red hair.

“Idiot,” Shane said aloud, and Resolute snorted agreement. Shane looked at him, then at Sebastian, who rubbed a tufted ear against the post without opening his eyes. Then Shane leaned back against the front of Resolute’s stable and waited for Addie.

She returned some ten minutes later, a little breathless, wearing gold and green silks over white pants. “I thought I might as well,” she explained, halting before him. “I’ll have to weigh in before long anyway. At least they fit; we weren’t sure they would.”

“Yes, they fit.” He looked at the picture of her, slender and colorful, the silky material over her breasts rising and falling with each quick breath, and he cleared his throat. “How old are you, Addie?”

She blinked. “Twenty-five. Why?”

“Just curious.” He pulled his hands from the pockets of his dark slacks. “There’s something very fragile about you, something almost childlike. Innocent. Enough to scare a man to death.”

Addie could literally feel something shift between them, feel the change from simple acquaintance to vital physical awareness, and her knees went weak. It was difficult to breathe suddenly, and she couldn’t think of anything to say. She could only stare into green eyes darkening in a way that was familiar because she’d seen it in a dream.

His hands rose to her shoulders, drawing her slowly closer, and she saw her own hands lift to his chest; she could feel powerful muscles beneath his white shirt, and strength in the thighs touching her own.

“I don’t want to rush you,” he whispered, his head bending toward her. “But I have to do this. I have to—”

Addie forgot everything when his lips met hers. She forgot the lurking, nameless danger facing Resolute. Forgot the desperate importance of these next weeks. Forgot the race she would shortly have to ride. Nothing mattered but Shane.

She could feel her entire body melt and flow bonelessly into his, her fingers sliding up his chest and around his neck to twine in the silky thickness of his hair. Her mouth opened instantly, responding without thought or hesitation.

The first tentative touch altered, grew demanding, and Shane’s lips slanted over hers with an explosive, vibrant need. He could feel her body against him, in his arms, and his own body told him he was holding a dynamic force clothed deceptively in gentle, guileless colors. There was nothing frail or timid in her response, nothing fearful or overpowered.

Shane’s hands slid over her silk-clad back and down to the tiny waist, pulling her more firmly against him, and when she rose on tiptoe, he nearly groaned aloud.

Addie felt a hot ache swell within her, and all her muscles unconsciously tautened. She experienced an odd, panicky sensation, as if her mind were urgently trying to curb her rising feelings. But then she felt the hard heat of his desire pressing against her lower body, and her own melted all over again.

When his head lifted at last, she could feel his harsh breathing, feel his chest rising and falling against her own unsteady breasts. Dazed, astonished, she could only stare up into jade eyes and wonder what on earth had happened to her.

“Do I—stir your blood?” he asked.

She swallowed hard. “I think you know you do.” Incurably honest, she couldn’t lie about this.

“And you stir mine. God—you set me on fire.” He kissed her again, quickly, hard, and there was something triumphant in his eyes and in his smile, something indescribably male.

Addie wanted to say something, explain something to him, but she couldn’t seem to grasp the elusive thought. And then she heard the first call for jockeys. “The race! I have to—”

“Damn the race. Addie—”

She backed away from him, shaking her head, still feeling dazed and boneless. “No. No, I have to go. Wait, please wait until Bevan comes to watch Resolute.” Ignoring, with a wrench, the hand he held out to her almost unconsciously, she turned and quickly left the barn.

She almost ran into Tate outside the jockeys’ changing rooms, feeling herself flush inexplicably when he looked her up and down with sardonic eyes.

“Fast worker, our American friend.”

Dear heaven, does it show? Addie wondered, but she brushed past him without a word, going hurriedly into the changing room for her whip, helmet, and saddle.

“You’re late!” Storm said, then took a second look. “Addie, what on earth—”

Addie grabbed her things and literally bolted, feeling too unsettled to talk about it. She weighed in and went to the saddling paddocks, trying to concentrate on what the trainer of her mount was telling her. But it was difficult; everything seemed to be moving too fast and she was breathless.

But when the horses shot forward on the track to begin the race, Addie woke up with a vengeance. The horse she rode, the favorite, was left almost literally standing, and nearly lost his rider at the first leap forward.

She remembered, then, what she had wanted to tell Shane, what she’d wanted to warn him about. Racing. She had to race; it came first until the Cup. And nothing could be allowed to interfere with that.

Not even he.

Grim, Addie settled down to ride her horse. She pushed both the animal and herself furiously to make up lost ground, taking chances, pointing him at every opening in the pounding, thrusting crowd of horses, however narrow and dangerous the opening was. But the late start had doomed them, and her horse finished second by a neck.

Ten minutes later she was carrying her saddle swiftly back to the changing room to don a fresh pair of silks, and found Shane by her side.

“Addie, you’ll be killed riding like that!”

She whirled to face him, aware that his anger stemmed from anxiety, because hers did. “I rode like that because I didn’t have my mind on the damned race and got left behind! I should have won that race.” She tried to calm her thudding heart, but despair was audible even to her in her voice. “I can’t—can’t—ride like that! I can’t afford to lose my concentration, Shane!”

“Are you blaming me for that?” His question was taut, and there was something abruptly wary and apprehensive in his eyes.

With no ready answer for him, Addie went on blindly to the changing room and put on another set of colors. Storm said nothing but looked worried, and Addie realized that her tumultuous emotions were obvious. With all the will she could command, she forced herself to calm down.

And when she carried her saddle out to find Shane waiting, her voice was even and quiet again. “I have five more races today, Shane, with three good chances of winning. So if you don’t want to see me run another race like the last one, you’ll leave me alone.”

She hadn’t looked at him, and thought fleetingly, unhappily, that he would, in all likelihood, do just that. She wanted to rush back and explain fully, try to make him understand how important the racing was. But she didn’t have time, or have the right to tell him why the racing was so important. It was not her secret alone.

And if a single kiss could wreck her concentration so utterly, it was for the best, she told herself firmly….And then she pushed the insight and the pain of it to the back of her mind.

And raced.

—

Shane thought a part of him had died in that first race. He had watched Addie’s fury, watched her guide her horse through gaps in the field with a reckless drive and a total unconcern for her own safety. His heart had leaped into his throat and lodged there, remaining even after the race, when he’d seen a new, shuttered look in her dark eyes.

Remained through five more interminable races while he watched her vital force drain slowly away under the strain of the demands she placed on herself. He watched and hurt, seeing her face grow whiter and her eyes larger after each finish. And it took almost more than he could stand for him to lurk unseen within the crowd and watch her saddle for the sixth and final race. She looked so white and weary, her shoulders slumped.

But needed strength came from some wellspring within her. The white exhaustion became steady control. And whatever the source of her gift, it remained true; the leggy two-year-old she rode finished with a burst of speed that put him out in front by a nose.

Shane happened to be standing near the owner at the end of the race and only dimly heard the bewildered man’s gasping reaction.

“But, he never has anything left at the finish! He couldn’t have—But look at the time! I really—”

Shane made his way to the winner’s circle, a grinding concern for her blotting out all else. She’d ridden six hard races, winning three, controlling half a ton of temperamental Thoroughbred each time, and he could feel her weakness as if it were his own.

But he waited quietly throughout the ceremony, watching her almost flinch away from photographers and journalists eager to cover the success of a rare female jockey, watching her weigh out, holding the tiny saddle that was probably unbearably heavy to her now. When she started back for the changing rooms, he fell into step beside her. With other jockeys and people milling all around them, Shane didn’t offer to carry her saddle for her, and he wondered if she could possibly know how badly he wanted to pick her up and carry her.

He was waiting outside when she came out after showering and dressing in jeans and a blouse. And with the bright cheeriness of her silks gone, she looked so tired and fragile it almost broke his heart.

“Addie—”

She hardened her heart against his gentleness and turned toward the stables. “I have to check on Resolute.”

But Shane wasn’t to be denied. “Addie, it can’t be this important to you! You’re killing yourself with these damned races. I can’t stand by and watch—”

“No one’s asking you to.” He said nothing more, but remained by her side until they reached the barn. Blindly, more tired than she’d ever been in her life, Addie fumbled open Resolute’s stable door and went in. She only vaguely heard Sebastian grumble as his seat moved beneath him. Resting her forehead against the pale horse’s glossy neck, she closed her eyes and tried to control trembling muscles.

“What’s that?”

Addie heard Shane’s sharp query, and looked back over her shoulder for a moment before coming out of the stall and locking the door behind her.

Bevan was coming toward them—he’d obviously been nearby—and he was holding a bridle. Addressing himself grimly to Addie, he said, “I heard someone out by the jeep about an hour ago. There was no one there, but your equipment trunk had been opened. I found this.”

She took the bridle and examined it closely, very much aware that Shane had stepped nearer to look as well. They both saw it, and Shane swore violently. Addie fingered the picked-at stitching on Resolute’s bridle, realizing a bit numbly that if Bevan hadn’t caught this, her horse would have lost his bridle halfway through his next race, and she would have lost all control of him.

“I can’t—” She couldn’t think, couldn’t make her mind work coherently.

“Can you stay tonight?” Shane asked Bevan.

“Yes, sir, of course.”

“Thanks.”

He hadn’t any right, she thought distantly, to thank Bevan on her behalf. She felt the bridle rising from her fingers and saw it handed back to her trainer. Then Shane had an arm around her and was leading her toward his distantly parked car.

He put her into it without a word, and started off toward the city. Addie slumped in the comfortable seat and spoke in what was barely a murmur.

“I’m not usually this tired.”

“No?”

She roused herself to respond to that brief, hard disbelief. “No, I’m not. You don’t understand. I had to work twice as hard today because of—distraction. I had to make myself concentrate, make myself think about the races.”

“And that’s my fault?” He laughed a little, unamused. “You can’t walk away now, Addie. So let’s hear the answer.”

“It’s not anybody’s fault.” She took a deep breath. “I’ve never…never felt like that before. And it isn’t wrong, Shane; it’s just the wrong time.”

“Because you have to race.”

“Yes. Because I have to race.”

“I want you.”

Even as weary as she was, Addie felt her pulse leap, felt an inner throbbing that caught at her breath. And she didn’t flinch from that blunt statement or from the naked desire in his low voice. She turned her head to look at him, seeing his face gripped in a masklike control, seeing whitened fingers grasping the steering wheel.

“I want you too,” she responded simply.

A muscle moved strongly in his jaw; he didn’t look at her. “But not yet. Because you have to race.”

She lifted her hands in a helpless gesture before letting them drop again to her lap. “I have to race.”

“So. Racing is more important to you than—” He stopped, wouldn’t say it.

“Not more important.” She was tired almost beyond bearing, and half angry that he was pushing. “Just more imperative.”

Shane swore very softly—but at himself, it seemed. “I’m sorry, Addie. Look, we’ll talk about it later, all right? When we get to the hotel, why don’t you go up and rest for a few hours. Then we’ll have a late dinner together. You’re too tired to eat anything unless you rest first.”

“Shane—”

“Please, Addie.”

She wasn’t certain if he was pleading for her to rest or for them to have dinner together. But she gave in to both because she was just too tired to worry about it then.

—

Shane saw her to her room and then went to his own, restless and feeling as if all his nerves were stretched to the breaking point. He knew he’d been unfair, deliberately pushing Addie when all her defenses had lain around her feet in splinters. But his own defenses were down and he felt nakedly vulnerable. That first race had frightened him half out of his mind.

It hardly seemed possible that he’d known her only two brief days. His initial fascination with her had rapidly grown to include raw desire, and her response to that had very nearly shattered his control; he was walking a fine, thin edge of ragged emotion now, and he knew it.

And his fear for the risks she ran had altered during that first race. Uneasiness had become alarm, followed by a leaden, smothering sense of dread.

Somehow, because he had been so conscious of his conflicting impressions of her—frailty versus strength—he had failed to examine his own emotions. Fascination was obvious, as was sexual desire. But until that horror had stabbed his heart, until he had felt fear clawing at his throat like a living thing, he hadn’t realized just how much she had so swiftly come to mean to him.

And when he had tried to tell her what he felt, only angry words and fierce, implied demands had emerged from his lips. He had pushed her, had bitten out flat, harsh words of physical need when that wasn’t a tenth of what he really felt.

And in the barn…Shane silently damned his arrogant male pride as he paced, remembering his own gloating triumph at her response, hating what had been a conscious certainty that a physical conquest would be easy.

Easy! There was nothing easy about his feelings or, he hoped, hers. Nothing to be neatly pigeonholed under the safe surface label of sexual desire. And nothing at all simple between them.

She had to race. He didn’t know why. She had to race in spite of dangers inherent to the sport—and the more nebulous but far more sinister danger in the growing certainty that someone was trying to stop her, Resolute—or both—from racing. She had to race.

He knew only that when all her defenses had been down, when she had been too weary to argue or protest or resist, the racing had been more…imperative to her.

Shane knew as surely as he knew his own name that if he asked her to choose, she would turn her back on him and race. He had no weapon to use against that unyielding determination—except possibly his own desperate fear for her, and that was a kind of emotional blackmail that would tear them both to shreds.

If she cared enough—and he was an arrogant fool to believe she might—it was possible that coerced by his fear she would choose him. But how would he live with himself knowing he had forced her to relinquish something for him? He despised emotional blackmail, and had long ago vowed that he would never make use of so degrading a weapon.

And he wouldn’t now.

He would, God help him, watch her race. And if the violent passion between them interfered with her racing, he would do everything he could to make that easier for her. Except leave her.

Not for either of their sakes could he leave her.





Chapter 3


“Can we talk about it now?”

Addie pushed her plate to one side, very aware that Shane had been watching her. It was fairly late and they had the hotel restaurant almost to themselves; only a few other guests—all couples—sat in the dimness and talked in low tones. She and Shane had said little since he had called her an hour before, and neither had managed to eat very much.

She felt better after a few hours sleep, stronger. But she wanted to say no to his question. “All right.”

Shane pushed his own plate away, waiting until a hovering waiter had carried both away and they had refused dessert. He looked across the table at her, trying to keep his mind on what he had to say and not on her glowing hair and great, fathomless eyes. “You have to race.”

“Yes.”

“Addie, I’ve watched you race.” God, how he had watched! “You ride to win, but I get the feeling that racing itself isn’t that important to you. Are you…will this be a career for you?”

She shook her head a little. “No. I started racing only because we discovered that no one else could ride Resolute. The best jockeys we could find were all thrown, or else he flatly refused to run for them. So I became an apprentice, and then an amateur.” She remembered the promise to her father, but shook the memory away. “And then, a few weeks ago, a professional.”

“But it isn’t a career?”

Addie hesitated, wondering how much she could tell him without breaking yet another promise. “No. I’ll race only until the Cup. Only a few more weeks. After that…well, after that, I’ll either retire Resolute—or sell him.”

Shane heard the stark heartache in those last three words, and frowned as he gazed at her. “What do you mean?”

She forced a smile. “If we win, I’ll retire him. If we lose, I’ll sell him.”

“You don’t want to sell him?”

“No.”

Having a good idea of how she felt about her horse, Shane could only believe that if she sold him, it would be because she needed money badly. Yet he knew she made a very good living in her blacksmith work, and also knew that she earned a percentage of the purse in every race she won. In short, she was making quite a bit of money day to day. So why would she need to earn an enormous sum of money within a few weeks?

“I don’t suppose you’d tell me—” He didn’t have to finish the question.

“No. I’m sorry, Shane, but I can’t tell you why I’m doing this. I made a promise not to tell anyone, and I won’t break it.”

He respected her for that, even though it hurt a little. “I see. You have to go on racing until the Cup. And you’ll ride in as many races as possible before then.”

“Yes.”

He nodded slowly. “What about the fact that someone seems to be trying to stop you—or Resolute?”

Addie thought about the sabotaged bridle. Who? Who was trying to stop them? She didn’t know, couldn’t guess. “I don’t know. I can’t believe that.”

“You have to believe it. Twice in two days; first the apple and then the bridle. Both were deliberate, Addie, and you know it. You believe it. I can see it in your eyes.”

“I can’t do anything about it,” she said, tacitly confirming what he said. “Except be on guard and watch Resolute.”

“You can report it to the authorities.”

“No!” That, at least, she had to tell him—or he would report it himself, and she’d become front-page news. “No, I can’t do that, Shane. I have to avoid publicity whenever I can. My father has a bad heart. If he heard something like this was going on…”

“All right.” Shane sensed more than saw her anxiety. “But Addie, there are a hundred ways someone could get to Resolute. And if they want to get to you, they could hire an unscrupulous jockey to bump you during a race. Or maneuver you into riding a really bad horse. Most of your mounts are completely unfamiliar to you when you race them, aren’t they?”

“Most of them.”

“And it’s widely known you’ll ride whatever you’re offered?”

She nodded. “But I’d hear from the other jockeys if a horse was bad; you can’t keep a thing like that a secret.”

“You can keep drugs a secret,” he said, “at least until after a race, and even then if the horse isn’t tested.” He heard the growing intensity of his own voice and hoped dimly that she couldn’t hear his fear. “And they don’t even have to be that drastic. You could be offered a race on a horse that hates a whip and you’re told to use it. Or a horse that’s always run with blinders—except when you get on him. My God, Addie! We both know that Thoroughbreds are a thousand pounds of bundled nerves and raw power; it doesn’t take anything to make one go nuts!”

“I have to race,” she said softly.

Shane ran a hand through his hair and tried to get a grip on himself. “You have to race. All right, then, if that’s the way it is.” He looked at her, wondering if he had imagined her response during that interlude today. “But what about us, Addie?”

Addie wanted to look away from those intense green eyes, but everything inside her rebelled. She tried to keep her mind on words, and away from the desire he could somehow ignite with a glance. “Shane…a race is like a chess match. You concentrate and plan, and if your opponent makes a mistake, you take advantage of it. But you have to keep your mind on the game.”

“And what’s between us makes that impossible?”

“It did today. During the first race. And it made the other races harder.” It had never happened to Addie before, and she wondered in confusion if it was unfulfilled desire that had wrecked her concentration; would she be able to keep her mind on riding if she and Shane were lovers?

Shane drew a deep breath, his eyes searching her delicate features and then dropping to the V neckline of her blouse, where he could see creamy flesh and the hint of a silver chain she wore around her neck. And he felt the sudden hot pulsing of his need for her tightening his muscles painfully. He jerked his gaze away. “Addie, I can’t—can’t leave you. I’m not even sure I can leave you alone.” He laughed a little.

“Shane—”

“I have to touch you, don’t you understand that?” His voice was rough, hurried; he stared down at his wineglass because he was afraid to look at her and lose what little control he could claim. “It wouldn’t have been so hard to not touch you if today hadn’t happened. If you hadn’t felt something too. Before, I could have gone on telling myself you were just a little bit unreal. Something lovely and magical I could look at but not touch. But not after today. After today I’ll look at your beautiful red hair…and remember the passion in you.”

Just as it had been in the car, Addie could feel his low voice moving her, stirring her to restless excitement. And she didn’t know what to say except what was in her mind, tantalizing her with its promise. “I don’t have to race again until Saturday.”

His eyes lifted to meet hers quickly, hope flaring in the depths like green fire. But he said only, “And then you’ll put me out of your mind?”

Too honest to pretend, she said, “I don’t know which will be more difficult: trying to concentrate as things are now, or trying with something more between us.”

His mouth twisted in a curious self-mocking smile, and he said, “Maybe if we scratch the itch, it’ll go away and not bother us anymore.”

“Do you believe that?” She didn’t think that he did, but his instant denial nonetheless reassured her.

“Hell, no. I think I’ll be lucky to get out of Australia without turning into a raving madman because of you.”

It reassured her and startled her—and reminded her painfully—that he was a visitor in her country with a home of his own thousands of miles away.

“Have you made plans to leave?” She forced the question, dreading the answer.

Shane hesitated, then answered in a strained tone of voice. “I have tickets back the day after the Cup.”

“I see.” Another deadline! After that race her entire life could change. Would change.

“I wonder if you do.” He shook his head abruptly, as if shaking off more than the words, and changed the subject. “I asked Bevan which train you’d take to Sydney, and I’ve reserved a compartment. I hope you’ll share it.”

Most of the day in a small, closed compartment with Shane, she thought. She pushed away notions of deadlines and races and dangers, and nodded. “Bevan can ride with Resolute.”

“We’ll start early, won’t we?” He sounded restless, and both of them were conscious of something left dangling.

“Yes. I have a van to take Resolute to the station; a friend’s loaning me another one in Sydney. And there’s a nice hotel near the track there. I’ll give Resolute Sunday to rest after the race, then bring him back on Monday.”

They were quiet for a few moments, and then Shane stirred. “We’d better get some sleep,” he said with obvious reluctance.

Addie didn’t protest. She was still tired in spite of the rest, and just a bit wary of these strange new feelings. It had happened too fast, this hot, breathless feeling Shane so easily roused in her. And a warning voice reminded her that he’d be gone all too soon.

But Addie had lived her life more by instinct than thought. It was instinct that guided her to handle animals with an ease that seemed to baffle other people. It was instinct that drew her to mold herself to whatever company she happened to find herself in.

And it was instinct that drew her like a flower to the sunlight to melt into Shane’s arms when they stopped before the door of her room a few minutes later. She lifted her face for his kiss as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and for her, it was.

She knew, then, what she was feeling.

Shane felt the force of her again, the inner strength that was like tempered steel. And all his senses seemed to riot, spiraling crazily. There could never be between them so simple a thing as a parting kiss. She was all woman in his arms, guilelessly passionate, unaffectedly provocative. The tiny movements she made against him were unconsciously seeking ones.

He held her more tightly, his hand sliding down to press her hips even closer, feeling both pleasure and pain in the contact that was intimate even with the barriers of clothing between them. The heat of her slight body branded him, beckoned to him, and the slender, delicate hands on his neck drew him nearer to deepen the kiss in an explosion of sheer need.

Addie had lost herself again in the spinning madness of his touch. She couldn’t seem to control her body; the need to be close to him was a hunger that ached in her. She was boneless again, heat sapping willpower and thought—and she almost cried aloud in frustration when he tore his lips from hers and stepped back.

“Addie, for God’s sake!” His entire body was throbbing, punishing him for restraint, and for a moment Shane was conscious of a fierce resentment that it was he who had to find the will to draw back.

“Shane, I’m sorry—I—” She could see the struggle on his face and the flickering anger in his eyes.

He yanked her abruptly back into his arms and hugged her hard. “Don’t be sorry.” His chin rubbed in her hair briefly. Then he released her and turned her toward the door, and his voice was gruff. “Just get in there, all right? I’ll see you in the morning.”

Silently, Addie went into her room and closed the door behind her. She undressed and got into bed, trying not to think about the fact that she and Shane would have been together tonight if not for her races today and the need for an early start tomorrow. She knew they would have been together, and her body was hot and heavy with yearning.

They had the trip tomorrow, and the days before the race, but Addie didn’t know what would happen between them. She didn’t know if Shane would allow anything to happen in spite of her own obvious willingness and his fierce desire. Because her instincts had told her something tonight, something that moved her almost unbearably and filled her with anxiety.

They had told her that she loved him. And they had told her something else, something about Shane’s feelings. Every race she rode would cut Shane to the bone, tear him to pieces inside. And how much worse would it be for him if they were lovers?

—

The early part of the next morning was hectic as they got her horse ready and trailered him to the railway station. And if Addie noticed a distance in Shane, a holding back, she said nothing about it. Her own feelings were so raw, she welcomed the mindless bustle of departure.

There was a flurry of checking equipment and tack, of gathering feed for the horse and wrapping his legs for travel. In the rush, Bevan was forced to help with Resolute, and the stallion, who could rarely bear anyone but Addie near him, tried his best to bite or kick the hapless trainer.

Shane was stuck holding Sebastian while Resolute was transferred from the trailer to the railway stock car, and he found that the small creature had a grip of iron only slightly less painful for the black gloves guarding his sharp claws. Sebastian refused to cling to Shane’s back, and so faced him squarely with his front legs around Shane’s neck and his rear ones digging into his midriff.

And since the koala had eaten his breakfast sometime before dawn, the spicy aroma of eucalyptus leaves wafted about them both. Shane wondered vaguely if anyone had discovered this remarkable cure for sinus problems, and tried to hold his breath. But Sebastian, drowsy, insisted on yawning constantly and breathing all over his human tree.

Shane was thankful to hand the cuddly creature over to Addie, and a little bemused to watch him settle on her back easily. He held on to that feeling, avoiding all others. “How on earth do you manage that? He grips like a vise and smells like a eucalyptus tree.”

She looked a little surprised. “He doesn’t hold on tightly, Shane. You probably scared him.” She didn’t mention the smell, since there was no way to guard against that.

“He isn’t awake enough to be scared.” Shane followed her into the car and watched while the long-suffering Sebastian was transferred again, this time to Resolute’s blanketed back. There were specially made pockets arranged conveniently for the koala, and he promptly slid his gloved paws into them, dropped his nose against the horse’s neck, and closed his eyes.

Shane laughed in spite of himself. “Does he ever get excited by anything?”

“Not really.” Addie was making a last check on her horse and trainer, assuring herself that Bevan had room to move around without having to get too close to Resolute. “He’s more awake at night, of course, but doesn’t move around a lot even then.”

She patted horse and koala, spoke briefly to Bevan, and then left the car with Shane. She was uneasy, although she silently scolded herself for that; this wasn’t the first time Bevan had traveled alone with her horse. Still, she was unusually quiet as she and Shane made their way to their own compartment toward the front of the train.

The train was an old one, with several compartments arranged in cars behind the ones holding the more common row seating. There was a dining car, and also a car containing a large lounge. But in their car there were only four compartments, each separate and private, with bunks that could be pulled down for sleeping.

Addie sat along the wall gazing out on passing scenery, seeing nothing, but very conscious of Shane’s presence beside her.

“Tell me about your family,” he said abruptly, as if he, too, were conscious of the strained silence. “All I know is that you have two sisters and grew up on a sheep station.”

“There isn’t much else to tell.” She looked at him finally, her breath catching oddly. She cleared her throat. “I’m the middle sister; we’re only a year apart in age. Our mother died when we were small, and Dad raised us.”

“On a sheep station. Killaroo,” he said, remembering.

“On Killaroo. We’re close, especially since there were no other children near home.”

“What about Tate? You said you’d known him all your life.”

Addie frowned a little, the uneasiness returning. “Well…their station was next to ours. And they had horses. I was always crazy about horses, so I’d often find some way of getting to their stables. Hitch a ride or something.”

“You don’t like to talk about him? I’m sorry.” Shane was a bit abrupt.

“No, it isn’t that.” Why did she always feel this uneasiness about Tate? It wasn’t, she knew, because Shane had asked about him. She managed a smile.

Shane reached over and took her hand, holding it and gazing at it rather fixedly. “I keep telling myself that if he could—stir your blood, you’d know about it by now.”

“Yes, I would.” She looked gravely at his profile, beginning to understand that Shane’s feelings were more complex than she had realized. “And he doesn’t, Shane. He can’t.”

He drew their clasped hands onto his thigh, his free hand reaching to stroke hers. In an odd, taut voice, he said, “My mother died when I was ten. My father remarried a few years later, and my stepmother never tried to take Mother’s place with my younger sister and me, so we’ve always been good friends. She had two boys, twins, who were five when she married my father. Mike and Daniel. Mike was the jockey. He was eighteen when he was killed. That was eleven years ago.”

His tone told her more than the stark words, and Addie ached inside. It was clear Shane had loved his stepbrother, and the pain was still there after all these years. “I’m sorry, Shane.”

“I was watching that day; he was riding one of our horses. And it happened so damn fast. Just an accidental bump from another horse, and Mike disappeared. The horses were running at forty miles an hour and couldn’t stop, couldn’t avoid him. I knew…when I saw him lying there, I knew.”

The long fingers stroking the back of her hand quivered even though his voice was steady, and Addie felt a hard lump in her throat. “Shane, it doesn’t happen often, you know that.”

“But it happens. And I don’t want to see it happen again, Addie. Not to you.” His face changed then, the fixed look of pain altering to self-disgust. “Dammit, I said I wouldn’t—” He released her hand to gather her abruptly into his arms.

“Shane—”

“Just let me touch you,” he muttered in a raw voice. “I can’t think when I touch you, and I can stand the pain.”

She wanted to protest violently—not the touching but the pain. Her own heart ached, and she knew that whether Shane realized it or not, he was reaching for the pain of self-denial to avoid that other pain.

Addie had never been able to bear seeing anything or anyone in pain, and his tore her up inside. They were caught, the two of them, in an impossible situation. She had to race knowing it hurt him, and he had to watch in spite of his pain. And every touch brought them closer, roused deeper feelings, so the pain kept growing.

She held him as tightly as he held her, her body responding to his instantly, a tremor of desire shaking her. She answered the demand of his mouth with one just as powerful, everything in her crying out against the iron will she could feel holding him back. They wouldn’t be lovers, Shane wouldn’t let them be lovers, because if they were, he’d have no defense at all against the pain and fear of her racing.

She could feel him withdraw even before the kiss ended, even before he leaned back. And her rare temper lifted a fiery head. In a rising burst of certainty, all her instincts rebelled against the idea that by avoiding a physical consummation they could avoid tearing each other to shreds.

Addie was in love with a man for the first time in her life, and in spite of danger or pain or time’s sword hanging over her head—she meant to grab what she could.

“I won’t let you do this to us.” Her voice was unconsciously soft, unknowingly rich with the peculiar enchantment her instincts wove about her. “I love you, Shane.”

His breath caught and his green eyes flashed. “No. Addie, don’t say that. I won’t be able to…”

“Won’t be able to what?” Her soft, intense voice was merciless. “Won’t be able to pretend it’s only passion? You think I have a choice about that? That I can bl